Colonialism: The Foundation of the “5 Evils of Society”
Updated: 1 day ago
Colonialism is the foundation upon which the other 5 Evils are able to thrive. To understand white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and puritanism, we must first address colonialism and its symptoms and consequences on society now. Colonialism, for my purposes, is defined as the practice of violently–explicitly and implicitly–invading and controlling another person, place, or culture for the purpose of hoarding resources, claiming opportunities at the expense of oppressed peoples, and uplifting self above others. My definition of colonialism includes and also extends outward beyond land–which most definitions of colonialism specifically acknowledge–and towards overarching ideas of claim, entitlement, domination, and scarcity of resources as the resulting symptoms and consequences.
Colonialism conditions people with privilege to believe that they are entitled to domination over others and that marginalized people and minoritized cultures are not only deserving of, but also in need of, domination. Thus, people with privilege are entitled to–and do a service by–dominating over marginalized people and their cultures. The reverse is also taught: oppressed people are lesser than and should appreciate being dominated, assimilate, or otherwise seek to dominate others in order to rise in societal rank. People and cultures that have not encountered “dominant” culture need to be saved, dominated, and modernized. The violence enacted from colonialism is not just physical, but also emotional and cognitive and generational. It is violence seeped into the fiber of this society, internalized personally and passed down in families, communities, and systems. Society will continue to evolve the ways that colonialism manifests in order to maintain it, becoming more nuanced and subtle over time but always maintaining.
What does modern-day colonialism look like? Land occupation, war, food deserts, mass-buying and restriction of housing to others, disconnection from spirituality, forced abandonment of identity and culture, disregard for nature and earth, policing and assimilation, criminalization, denial of autonomy…
What other examples come to mind as you reflect on modern-day colonialism?
The symptoms and consequences of colonialism result in narratives of domination, entitlement, and scarcity. These manifestations of colonialism become internalized and are reflected in the ways that each of us relate to ourselves, our relationships and people, and the world around us. These manifestations infiltrate our perceptions of safety, trust, power and control, intimacy, and esteem. In this, we see the ways that all people have internalized thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, and mindsets rooted in colonialism. We see the trauma of living under and within colonialism.
Internalized about the self, we may believe that we must rise in domination or else be a failure. We may deprioritize others and feel entitled to do what is necessary in order to gain access to resources and rise above. Our sense of self is likely determined by the power we hold over others and the resources we are able to hoard. People with privilege are entitled to do what is necessary to build and maintain that power. We are not safe unless we have access to resources above and beyond what is needed.
Internalized about others, we may see competition in others and fight to maintain power and resources. We might cultivate extractive relationships with others in an effort to rise above and maintain control. It is difficult to trust others because they are moving from this same place; there cannot be trust in competition and domination. To share with others is to risk vulnerability and exposure; it is too intimate an act and should only be reserved for very particular relationship dynamics.
Internalized about the world, we see the earth, the land, and all resources as things to commodify and weaponize. It is a sign of strength and worthiness to maintain a monopoly on the scarce resources available to us. There is nothing to share; cooperation and collaboration are not feasible because of this scarcity. The world around us is only as safe as the resources we maintain control over.
In viewing mental health struggles through this lens of colonialism as a mechanism of systemic trauma, we can see and understand the way that the mental health field and mental health treatment has also been colonized. The field was built utilizing colonialist values: pathologizing differences and demanding that people deemed superior through academics and licensure dominate over these different people. Dominant cultures and people are entitled to conceptualize lived experiences of minoritized people as unhealthy, and are entitled to violently “treat” these “unhealthy” presentations. In order to medicalize and “treat” mental health, we must categorize lived experiences and mental health presentations as healthy or unhealthy. These presentations and experiences are innate to each individual person rather than as manifestations of living under violent systems. There is no reason to change the systems because they are not the issue; the issues are all internal and individual. Thus, people will continue to live under systems that keep them traumatized and people will only have limited, individualistic access to change their circumstances and mental health “symptoms”. Access to professionalism and access to treatment are scarce and only accessible to the most “deserving” and most privileged, such that opportunities to rise out of “unhealthy” presentations are only accessible to those whom society determines are entitled to it.
To heal from the trauma of colonialism, we must decolonize both mental health as a concept and as a field. To decolonize mental health as a concept is to shift away from the individualistic and isolated perceptions of health and wellness. There is currently a perception that emotional and mental well-being are a reflection of personal success or failure, internal strength or weakness, and something to grow in private. Mental health is not, however, something we can will ourselves into building and healing. It takes support, community, self-awareness, patience… All people deserve to have mental health viewed from a lens of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal factors in order to address healing holistically.
It is our role as mental health professionals to support clients in healing through self-awareness, connection, activism, and skill-building. The mental health field needs to adjust conceptualizations of “symptoms” and “presenting problems” from flaws, failings, and illness to internalized trauma from the evils of society and the manifestations of those evils in how people relate to themselves, each other, and the world. Of course people are increasingly struggling with anxiety, depression, adjustment difficulties, trauma, chronic pain, and maladaptive functioning. To have the field approach treatment from a conceptualization that these increasing struggles are a result of personal failure, rather than a symptom and consequence of the 5 evils of society, puts pressure on us as professionals and our clients as beings to solve all of the issues one-on-one and in isolation. This shift towards intrapersonal, interpersonal, societal, and skill-building realms of healing allows the field to address the root issues causing harm to us, our clients, our loved ones, and all people.
As we attempt to unlearn and disconnect from colonialism–a task that is never ending–we will struggle. This is not an easy, pretty, or simple process. At the same time, it is both a worthy pursuit and crucial to truly experiencing individual and collective healing. The process of decolonization will inevitably lead to the unlearning of and disconnection from white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and puritanism. In future writings, I will expand on these other evils of society, the ways that they are internalized, and ways that we may begin to disentangle from them.
©2023, Margaret (Pebble) McCleary, CoTenacious LLC, and its affiliates and assigns and licensors, All rights reserved.
If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, Pebble has curated a list of resources. The link below will take you to the CoTenacious Bookshop on Bookshop.org who is an online retailer that supports local bookstores with each purchase made on their site. This is an affiliate link and The CoTenacious Collective will also earn a commission.