Meet Our Advisors: Alnoor Ladha
June 29, 2022
As a way to introduce our new Advisors to our larger community, we’ve asked them to answer a question or two that gives us a better understanding of their background or how they approach their personal or professional lives. Our first profile is from Alnoor Ladha, who answered the question:
With the converging crises of our times in mind, in your professional opinion, what are the most important things for humanity to understand and do to prevent a catastrophic future?
There are no neat and tidy answers to this question, no frameworks of lucidity that I can offer. Rather, I can gesture towards five avenues to deepen exploration and inquiry through deeper relationality. These points are paraphrased from the upcoming book, Post Capitalist Philanthropy: Healing Wealth in the Time of Crisis, co-authored with Lynn Murphy.
1. Becoming a good student of the dominant culture
For one to understand power, one has to understand culture. In order to decode culture, one must develop critical faculties. To be critical, one must disidentify with the object of critique, in our case, the dominant culture.
We spend inordinate amounts of time consuming “culture”, yet we do not necessarily have the means to cultivate a deeper understanding or critique of culture. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz believed that “the human is an animal suspended in webs of significance that we ourselves have spun.” Indeed, culture is the cumulation of these webs of significance. It is only by unveiling the threads that we can start to grasp the limitations of our perceived reality in the attempt to expand the horizons of possibility. In other words, onto-shifts require that we understand what we are shifting from and what we are shifting into.
2. Decolonising the mind-body-heart-soul complex
This requires a de-colonization of one’s entire being. As we have stated before, this is an ongoing praxis of deconditioning old constructs of greed, selfishness, short-termism, extraction, commodification, usury, disconnection, numbing and other life-denying tendencies of the dominant culture. It also requires re-educating our mind-body-heart-soul complex with intrinsic values such as interdependence, altruism, reciprocity, generosity, cooperation, empathy, non-violence, interbeing and solidarity with all Life. Our loyalty is not pledged to an individual institution or a sector or even a vanguard party; our fidelity must be to the living world.
To do so requires taking responsibility and relinquishing power. The geographer and philosopher Katherine Yusoff reminds us that the “attempt to absolve the positionality of Western colonial knowledge and extraction practices, while simultaneously reinforcing and resettling them in a new territory – a Western frontier of pioneers armed with eco-optimism and geoengineering – indicates a desire to overcome coloniality without a corresponding relinquishing of the power it continues to generate in terms of who gets to formulate, implement and speak to/of the future.” Undoing this requires perpetual practice of decolonisation.
3. Making values explicit; linking cosmology, care and creation
As we deepen our critique of the dominant culture, we will naturally start to oppose the values that are rewarded by our current order. By better understanding what we stand against, we will deepen our understanding of what we stand for.
As we create intimacy with ideas, practices and embodiments that cultivate solidarity, empathy, interdependence and other post capitalist values, we also refine our internal world, the felt experience of what it is to be a self-reflective, communitarian being in service to Life. As we shift internally, we may find the external world of consensus reality starts to mirror back these values, and in turn, our bodies will reflect the external changes.
It is a common belief that there is an oppositional relationship between inner work and outer work, spirituality and politics. They are seen as separate domains – politics happens in halls of power or the streets, and spirituality happens in ashrams, churches, temples, forests, caves and other places of worship. This separation is often manifested in statements such as “I have to take care of myself before I can help others”. This notion overlooks the possibility that being in service to others can be the driver of self and communal transformation, which then again, affects the self. By linking our cosmologies, care and acts of creation we can transcend the traditional binaries of internal versus external evolution.
4. Creating embodied cultures of lived possibility
Part of the practice of resistance to dominant culture is to create and live alternatives of such beauty and extraordinariness that the so-called ‘others’ are magnetically drawn to post capitalist possibilities. As part of this, we must enact spiritual-political praxis with others in community and in dialogue to create embodied cultures of change and lived possibility.
The word ‘spiritual’ is loaded for many, and has multiple meanings and associations. The reason we use the word in this context is to distinguish between the materialist, Newtonian aspect of reality as the seen world and gesture towards a more quantum, Bohrian aspect of the unseen and unknowable as also real. We are invoking the aspect of ‘spirit’ that speaks to the infinite potentiality of the world of the formless, in addition to aspects of reality that we do not yet understand (and perhaps never will) including consciousness itself.
The idea of a spiritual-political praxis also nods to the life-force energy that lives at the nexus of our inner landscapes and the material conditions we face in the world. We are interdependent with our social and ecological contexts and the liberation of internal life-force requires a constitutive restructuring of our material realities. The enclosure of the wider social and ecological context is partly how and why capitalist modernity has been able to sever connections with our ancestral past and actively creates and reinforces trauma in our bodies.
5. Practising emergence
Emergence is not just a concept or a metaphor, it is a state of being. It is also part of a spiritual-political praxis and the ability to understand and navigate it can be learned. Emergent phenomena have certain attributes that are based on context, cultivating the conditions and containers for change, letting go of control or perceived control, iterating as complexity adapts, deep listening, and even deeper humility. Emergence is an antidote to hubris. Emergence is also interdependent with the observer (or witness). How we perceive phenomena, including ourselves and the archetypal role we are playing when we are observing the intra-action, informs how and what emerges.
We are being prepared for even deeper complexity, breakdown, tragedy, renewal and rebirth. This transition calls upon all of us to be vigilant students of our cultures, to contemplate our entangled destinies, to abandon our perceived entitlements, to transcend the apparent duality of inner and outer work, to create embodied cultures, to practise emergence, and to reaffirm our responsibility to each other and the interwoven fabric of our sentient planet and the living universe.
The more we can cultivate our connection (and notice our resistance) to life-force, the more we may be able to change the superstructures around us and inner structures within us, the more we can inhabit the immediacy of the present moment, and so on. The skill of being present with what is, while creating what could be, allows us to access the deep grief that comes with being a human in the Anthropocene and potentiates the generosity of spirit that is required to flourish in these times. This does not mean anything will become easier; rather, we simply have the opportunity to become more learned in “staying with the trouble.”