Cognitive justice and survival

There is an increasing call for fresh imagination, new epistemologies (sources of knowledge) and creative systems to tackle the ongoing issues and losses the world is confronting. These include global warming, pandemics, racism and poverty. Whether it is individual and personal or collective and global many are hearing about and experiencing Culture Wars, Cancel Culture and Gaslighting. These harmful approaches seem to have infected structures, relationships and decisions such as education, the media, politics, and religion.  They fly in the face of the need and desire for human flourishing which they all profess. How do we survive when mental health is so greatly impacted?

In the 1980s Dr. Shiv Visvanathan developed the concept of Cognitive justice which “recognises the right of different forms of knowledge to co-exist, but adds that this plurality needs to go beyond tolerance [tokenism] or liberalism to an active recognition of the need for diversity.”[1] There is much talk about EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) and there has been some progress. However, there persists an entrenched hegemony based in patriarchy and whiteness that resists transformation, the sharing of power, resources and knowledge.

Culture Wars are the fight for dominance and control not the values of full co-production. Cancel Culture is about expulsion and not hearing the other rather than forming of therapeutic alliances. Gaslighting is abusive manipulation that makes one question their reality rather than ‘walking a mile in their shoes.’ As Visvanathan noted participants “wanted to create sensitivity to their situation but from a variety of viewpoints… They did not want to be merely subjected to the clinical gaze.”[2] Survivors at the sharp end of oppressive practices and history, don’t need rhetoric, game playing or a supremacist gaze but a compassionate praxis always moving toward justice.

At a time when anxieties are high, tempers raised, a distaste for political leaders and the future is uncertain we need to try different approaches. There are a wealth of options and a need for some new ways for attachment, security and development. In the 1980s Dan Hughes developed PACE[3] – being playful, accepting, curious and empathetic – to help children who had been abandoned, abused, neglected suffering much distress in the process. Rather than been managed perhaps we need to reparent or be reparented. In other words start afresh with a new attitude which doesn’t mean we ignore what has already occurred but learn from it. 

An objective for the UN, World Health Organisation is it “pursues excellence; one that is effective, efficient, responsive, objective, transparent and accountable.”[4] All the spaces in which “we live, breathe and have our being”[5] also make similar statements but how are they doing? How are we doing in these spaces and places. 2020/21 has given us freedom to innovate, reconnect and imagine a radically different, hopefully better, future which promotes thriving. “The idea of cognitive justice thus sensitizes us not only to forms of knowledge but to the diverse communities of problem solving.”[6] It is not too late to begin again.

[1] viewed 21 July 2021

[2] ibid

[3] viewed 21 July 2021

[4] viewed 21 July 2021

[5] The Holy Bible Acts 17:26

[6] Visvanathan seminar