Vanessa Andreotti: "Hospicing Modernity and Rehabilitating Humanity" | The Great Simplification 125

1st Jun 2024 Gemini 1.5 Pro

The House That Modernity Built

In this insightful conversation with Nate Hagens, Vanessa Andreotti, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia at Victoria, introduces her provocative concept of "hospicing modernity." She initiates the discussion with a poignant land acknowledgement that transcends the conventional. Andreotti's acknowledgement emphasizes the land as a living entity and acknowledges the systemic violence inherent in settler-colonial societies, urging listeners to recognize the interconnectedness of all beings and the responsibility we hold toward past and future generations.

Central to Andreotti's work is a critique of modernity, which she frames as a "who" rather than a "what" – a dying entity whose promises have proven unsustainable. She employs the metaphor of a "house" to encapsulate the multifaceted structure of modernity. The foundation of this house rests precariously on the principle of "separability," the artificial division between humans and the natural world, which fuels a sense of worthlessness and a relentless pursuit of external validation through material consumption. This separation fosters hierarchies and inhibits our ability to perceive and embrace the interconnectedness of reality.

The house is in trouble. The house has lots of cracks. The roof is cracking. There's lots of mold and fractures. And we see ecological, economic, mental health crisis within the house. And so this image invites us to think about the kinds of questions that happen when we are facing the signs of social and ecological collapse.

Andreotti identifies the modern nation-state and the concept of universal reason as the two crumbling "carrying walls" of this house. The modern nation-state, she argues, prioritizes the protection of property and capital over its constituents, while the narrative of universal reason, often steeped in colonialism, erases alternative ways of knowing and being, leading to what she terms "epistemicide." The roof of this precarious structure, currently embodied as speculative, algorithmic capitalism, further exacerbates inequalities and obscures accountability. Andreotti paints a stark picture of the house of modernity, sustained by violence, overconsumption, and the externalization of costs onto the planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants.

Education and the Metacrisis

Transitioning from the architectural blueprint of modernity, Andreotti delves into the role of education in both perpetuating and potentially mitigating the metacrisis. She challenges the conventional view of education as a remedy for ignorance, positing instead that it often serves to reinforce "sanctioned ignorances" - societal blind spots that are actively rewarded.

Andreotti highlights four key denials propagated through education: the denial of complicity in violence, the denial of unsustainability, the denial of entanglement, and the denial of the sheer magnitude of the challenges we face. These denials, she argues, prevent us from confronting the root causes of our predicament and foster a predilection for simplistic solutions that merely mask the symptoms.

So education has been part of the problem. How can and what kind of education could help us through a different form of coexistence?

Drawing on her extensive research, Andreotti suggests that true education lies not in the acquisition of knowledge, but in the dismantling of these ingrained denials. This requires a fundamental shift in perspective – from a focus on individual achievement and mastery to a cultivation of emotional sobriety, relational maturity, intellectual discernment, and intergenerational responsibility.

Hospicing Modernity

Andreotti's concept of "hospicing modernity" has garnered significant attention and sparked debate. She clarifies that the analogy of "hospice" stems from collaborations with Indigenous communities who perceive colonialism, the bedrock of modernity, as a debilitating disease. Just as fighting a disease requires a different approach than combating a machine, she argues that dismantling modernity necessitates a process of compassionate disengagement and deep reflection, rather than a direct assault or a hasty attempt to erect a new system upon the unprocessed ruins of the old.

So offering palliative care to the house dying, offering a death with dignity, or figuring out how to how to find what can heal the dragon, right? It's work that is very different from trying to build something from the undigested lessons of the old.

Andreotti emphasizes the importance of "composting the shit" – confronting and processing the difficult emotions, unresolved traumas, and unsustainable practices deeply embedded within the structure of modernity. This process of hospicing, she suggests, creates the necessary space for imagining and nurturing alternative ways of being that are not merely repackaged versions of the same unsustainable patterns.

The Importance of Affective Responses

Delving deeper into the process of deconstructing modernity, Andreotti emphasizes the critical role of "affective responses" – the physiological and emotional reactions we experience in the face of complexity and uncertainty. She posits that our current education system, steeped in a paradigm of mastery and control, conditions us to suppress or collapse complexity into simplistic narratives that provide a false sense of coherence and security. This, she argues, is an unsustainable strategy in a world of exponential change and interconnected crises.

So if we're thinking about this scenario with the lid of the pressure cooker, what we need to do in terms of dealing with the difficult emotions that come, it is related to opening that lid.

Andreotti advocates for a different approach, one that embraces complexity and cultivates the emotional resilience to sit with discomfort, uncertainty, and even grief. She introduces the concept of "probiotic education," a process akin to controlled "diarrhea" that encourages the digestion and composting of the toxic byproducts of modernity. This form of education, she cautions, is not for the faint of heart, as it requires a willingness to relinquish the pursuit of easy answers and embrace the messy, non-linear process of deep learning and unlearning.

Metabolic Literacy and the Superorganism

Andreotti introduces the concept of "metabolic literacy" – an understanding of our interconnectedness within the planetary metabolism. She highlights the limitations of framing our societal organization solely through the lenses of individualism or collectivism, both of which remain inherently anthropocentric. She draws inspiration from Indigenous communities who perceive themselves as integral parts of a larger living system, inextricably linked to the land, the air, the water, and all beings.

The air we breathe is what the trees exhale, right? Whatever comes into the mouth is already dead or die or will be digested or become part of the communities that digest whatever comes next. And what we leave back to the earth is also going to become food for something else.

Andreotti argues that our current education system, with its emphasis on individual achievement and mastery, reinforces a narrow, dopamine-driven view of well-being that is ultimately unsustainable and detrimental to both personal and planetary health. She proposes a shift toward a more holistic understanding of well-being, grounded in the recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependence within the planetary metabolism. This shift, she suggests, requires a recalibration of our values and a cultivation of different neurochemical pathways that foster collaboration, compassion, and a deep sense of belonging.