What quantum physics can tell us about activism: that change is messy
Quantum physics has shown us that the everyday reality we live in is actually founded on a super-tiny befuddling unseen world that is completely topsy-turvy.
Matter behaves both like waves and particles.
Time is all over the place.
Everything exists everywhere.
The laws of physics that help us make sense of the tangible visible world are not wrong but they don't quite work to explain our whole experience.
In a similar way, we are seeing more and more that the dominant systemic language of activist media falls apart when we look at oppression through the subtle lens of neurophysiology.
For example, we may name a white person's reaction to an anti-racist meme as white fragility.
But how do we separate a person's whiteness from all of the other experiences that could have contributed to the sensitivity of their nervous system such as their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)?
And would it be even useful to try to separate someone's whiteness from their other experiences like attachment wounding?
I have no doubt that white fragility is a real phenomenon - white people definitely tend to have a low capacity for conversations about racism.
Yet in real-life situations, it's not at all truthful to talk about someone's behavior as simply white fragility. We have no way of quantifying or qualifying this in an accurate way.
As you can see, when we start to understand ourselves as living in a world shaped by the subtle energies of our nervous system, the systemically-biased language of social justice media simply doesn't work.
This is to say, how we talk about oppression on a day-to-day basis is trauma-misinformed, just like the rest of the world. We're not all that special in this regard.
So what can we do to resolve this dissonance?
Part of my answer has been to be inspired by quantum physics.
Through quantum physics, we have learned that we experience a Newtonian world but are actually quantum beings. The world that is immediately tangible to us can simultaneously exist alongside a subtle world where the rules that are comfortable to our rational mind completely disintegrate.
The main way I model this in my own work around racial justice is by understanding the difference between somatic/energetic approaches and systemic approaches to racism, and think about how they layer on top of each other.
The world is 'both/and', not 'either/or'.
Below is a simple chart I created for myself to understand this subject better.
|Somatic approach||Systemic approach|
|Basic assumption||Oppression is an embodied relational phenomenon.||Oppression is a systemic problem.|
|On white supremacy||White supremacy is an energy that can show up in anyone and anywhere as rigidity, reactivity, and disembodiment.||White supremacy is a system through which white people with white privilege enact domination|
|On intersectionality||All oppressions are an expression of embodied trauma that are experienced in different bodies in different ways||All oppressions are unique and function independently even while layering on top of each other|
|On organizing||Focus on self-work and day-to-day relationships||Focus on systemic change|
|On self-care||Self-care is systemic change in it of itself||Self-care is important because it allows you to show up to work on systemic change|
|On allyship||A relationship of mutual care by people who have experienced oppression as trauma in unique ways||A responsibility that comes from inheriting systemic privilege|
|On justice||Healing the system of relationships between people and groups||Holding a person or group accountable|
|On the experience of oppression||Focus on the different ways through which we experience oppression as trauma (inclusive of intensity)||Focus on intensities of oppression on a hierarchy|
|POC / indigenous||White|
|Feminine, femme, non-binary||Masculine, masc, cis|
As you might guess I do have a bias towards a more subtle approach to social justice.
This isn't an accident and has roots in my ancestral affinities for wisdom traditions such as Daoism.
As Lao Tzu said: "Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid. The slow overcomes the fast. The weak overcomes the strong… Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff, and the soft overcomes the hard. Yet no one applies this knowledge.”
I trust that as information about neurophysiology and trauma becomes more commonplace in our movements, there will be a natural momentum toward language better equipped to handle the inevitably messy world of real-life relationships.
Are you a therapist, facilitator, organizer or healer called to a deeper exploration of subjects discussed in this post?
I provide coaching and consulting services for individual practitioners, enterprises, and organizations that are committed to intersectional cultural healing. You can find more information here.