Caste and the Colonization of Liberal Souls

The imagination!  [John] Brown’s faith in its transformative power was boundless…it gave him license to envision his death as an event that might spur the antislavery world to action…right down to “poor, little, dirty, ragged bare-headed and barefooted Slave Boys and Girls, led by some old grey-headed Slave Mother”  bearing witness to his hanging.   

– Amy Godine, The Black Adirondacks

He (John Brown) could form beautiful dreams of things, as they should occur, and forthwith go into action on the basis of those dreams, making no sufficient allowance for some things occurring as they should not.”

– Katherine Mayo, friend of John Brown, quoted in The Black Adirondacks

…who were the last white people you can remember that we bombed?  In fact, can you remember any white people we ever bombed? The Germans!  That’s it!  They’re the only ones.  And that was only because they… wanted to dominate the world.  Bullshit! That’s our job. That’s our fuckin’ job.     

– George Carlin, If You’re Brown, You’re Goin’ Down

A collection of George Carlin’s humor sits next to Uruguayan poet/author Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days:A Calendar of Human History,  in our bathroom.  The two make an interesting pairing for daily reading, orienting the mind, clearing the neoliberal fog from the brain,  for the rest of the day.  Galeano’s entry for May 28th focuses on that date in 2006 when then Pope Benedict visited the Polish city of “Osweicim,” better known as Auschwitz.

“From the most famous death factory in the world,  [the pope] asked, “And God, where was He?”  

No one could tell him that God had never changed his address.  

He asked, “Why did God remain silent?”  No one pointed out that it was the Church that remained silent, the Church that spoke in God’s name.” 


I’ve figured it out.  I’ve figured out why, in America with our proudly democratic ideals, there’s a caste system. It’s simple. The caste system answers the perhaps most common and perfectly human  – though not often publicly spoken – prayer: “Lord don’t let me be vulnerable” by making some people  distinctly vulnerable. In biological reality everyone is vulnerable, starting in that most vulnerable of all moments in a human life, infancy; Western civilization has been uniquely successful in having reduced the fear of being vulnerable, particularly for those born white. Consequently many of us can live most of our lives without being unnecessarily plagued by the unpleasant reminder of our human vulnerability. 

The power of this delusional “invulnerability” comes from the fact it’s unconscious.  It relies upon an incredibly effective device for keeping most white people, including liberals, acting as if superior when in  fact, behind the scene, many of us are engaged in a near constant struggle against feelings of worthlessness born of real vulnerability.  More than the natural vulnerability of the helpless infant, a surplus man-made vulnerability comes from having been colonized, at the “micro-level,”  by our own social institutions, including family, without which our lives would be impossible to imagine!  

That is, in order to be colonizers, in order to be a nation that can legitimize, even valorize, the bombing of brown people, peoples’ souls and minds must be kept in chains while maintaining the illusion of freedom. They must be colonized for our own good. This colonization is re-enacted at each birth and in the months immediately following as the infant learns to make do with qualified recognition of its absolute needs; with the introduction, that is, of terror.

Commonly understood as a consequence of overt childhood abuse or of the battlefield, trauma is increasingly recognized as a component in all people who must accommodate to a society that is not based in the bottomline human need for the physical reassurance of safety as well as for those better-known needs: nourishment, shelter, education, etc.  A society not based, that is, in the responsibility to protect the vulnerable which at the earliest stages of human life, is all of us.  A society so afraid of feeling afraid that the experience of terror is shut out of consciousness. “Aw, come on. It’s not so bad!”  

Trauma, thus, is a wounding of the invisible soul.  It is also, in the world dedicated to denial of non-material reality, direct evidence of the soul’s real existence. It’s no accident that in liberal society the existence of trauma is denied beyond its “poster child” representations (or its trivialization). And here is how trauma is (unintentionally and unconsciously) made useful for the colonization of souls. Traumatized souls necessarily suffer in silence, their suffering unverbalizable and thus incomprehensible even to the afflicted except for professional diagnoses of this or that, which are treated with this or that medication, or not treated, in which case they lead to addictions and compulsions.  Unrecognized trauma  leads also to smallness of aspiration and readiness to assume responsibility for being too fat or too plain or too unsuccessful or too fundamentally wrong, or for the unhappiness of intimate others – forms of allowable enslavement (allowable, that is,  until criminality enters the picture.)  

Most crucially, the non-recognition of trauma makes an insurmountable obstacle to the soul’s reality of interconnection and  relatedness.  For, face it, the ideal of “the brotherhood of man” didn’t come from nowhere!  Jesus and the other spiritual prophets didn’t manufacture the dream of peace. Were the soul provided its expression (as a few people in history, a sprinkling of poets, prophets and anarchists have done), it would demand a society organized around in-common needs and the common good; it would demand there be a vision.  Colonization happens not from the trauma wound itself, for that is the truth of vulnerability. It comes from the social demand that wounds to the soul must go unrecognized; which is to say the soul – its essential wholeness – must go unrecognized.  Moreover, its to say that we will handle the worst effects of traumatization with institutions, like mental hospitals, jails, and nursing homes – by incarceration and punishment, all in the service of reducing awareness of vulnerability, of proving to the lucky ones “I’m not that, thank goodness!”

It turns out there’s a price to pay for luck.  In accepting our luck (i.e., at having been born white), unbeknownst to most of us, original access to the free gift of grace is exchanged for ego-supportive loyalty to “the normal,” to society’s power to enforce conformity.  This power society uses not for the common good, of course, but for the perpetuation of power arrangements that work for the few against the interests of the many. 


To souls that are colonized, talk such as mine about “souls” and “the soul” as if there were such a real existing entity, a real existing”other,” and as if I knew what the soul wants, is bizarrely irrelevant.  But “post-colonial” (not a fully-arrived condition but an ongoing struggle) awareness is different; it includes more than empirical knowing, or “facts.”  Post-colonial knowing is as a poet knows or an artist.  It is knowing in the way all-time bizarre wacko John Brown knew.  It is trust in a knowing because one is vulnerable, and therefore must trust in something beyond “progress,” the best of all possible worlds, whatever is the reassuring sedative being distributed in the moment.   

Like me, and others who place trust in “mystic knowing” more than in the pragmatic (and thus find ourselves “making no sufficient allowance for some things occurring as they should not” ) John Brown  was deficient in those areas requiring the ability to get on with a business enterprise.  According to the sorting process of caste society, as a white man, the only identity possible for  him was “loser,” lower-caste and vulnerable. What was remarkable in him was not (only) his passion for freeing the slaves, it was his trusting in a different kind of knowing that authorized him to pursue the dream that engaged his imagination and his passion.  

Today, our consciousnesses raised by voices from the third world and the colonized,  though John Brown’s not easy for white people who find his martyrdom disturbing, we may judge him differently than our history books have done.  We may, cautiously, with gloves on,  allow ourselves to see him as an extraordinary kind of genius.  But as well, I point out,  the faculty he depended on to lead him to his slavery-defying actions – his prophetic genius –  is not extraordinary.  We kid ourselves who attribute it to his fundamentalist reading of the bible, or his Calvinism.  Plenty of Calvinists did not lead quixotic, doomed, martyr-making forays against the federal government! Rather, John Brown trusted in his soul’s knowing that contains the mythic hierarchy (God, archangels, angels, man, woman, etc.).  Used by church institutions, this is basis for caste and thus rejected in liberal minds.  But, known directly rather than secondhand,  the imagination’s mythic hierarchy is the moral means to overthrow caste structure beginning in oneself.

The problem – and it’s enormous – is that, to the colonized imagination,  the inward, invisible  “Other,”   is absolutely threatening.  In the way John Brown was terrifying, this “Other” that brooks no bullshit, the one-on-one “truth-speaker”is terrifying.   It’s much easier, therefore, to ignore the inner voice.  Simply living life as I’m expected to in liberal reality – which nobody will fault me for – works like the silence of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.  It  makes me an unwitting accomplice against its knowing, and God is silent.

That is, the colonized imagination cannot distinguish between the threat of a “moral imperative,” and pre-existing terror in the traumatized soul.  The threat of John Brown-like Truth is both real and illusory. It is real inasmuch as I obey the lockout (from my soul’s imagination). It can be seen through, as illusory, if  I know the real trauma suffered in my soul.  To explain, I must speak of psychological entities as if they are real.  Apologies. Trying to explain God for liberals is no joke!

Liberal reality is the colonizer; it invades each person at birth, via the ego.   Ever obedient to and intent on survival in the given reality,  my ego expects me (my soul) to carry a load of near-unassuageable guilt.  That is, liberal caste reality extends – invades –  so deep into personal consciousness that it shapes my expectation of the inner voice to be one that confirms my worthlessness ( nothingness).  So-called “ego-centricity,” in other words, works contrary to popular notions.  Rather than making me assume I’m deserving of being at the center of everything, it makes me subservient to the existing order and to its compulsive need for control. The ego’s terror of losing control is my terror of losing control.  It’s not John Brown-type moral courage we fear, it is…something else.

Let’s say we fear  the “counter story” to the one we learn at birth or soon after, that taught me I’m flawed (otherwise my every infant need would have been met, or closer to it).  Unconsciously convinced the flaw’s in me, I’m easy prey for the  invasive dominant reality that tells me there’s no sense, all is absurdity and only the strong survive (so I must not be vulnerable ).  However,  if the “Other” of which I am terrified is allowed to speak, this  “third world” anti-colonialist truth-speaker in myself tells me there’s a personal story – my story – that can make sense. By “story,” I mean a story that goes something like this: First there was a wholeness, a whole child, then something happened to her feeling self – not necessarily intentional, which is why the story got confused –  to destroy that wholeness (i.e., trauma – terror – entered the soul).  (Fairy tales deal with this basic situation, many implying the original wholeness but starting with a flaw or a lack – a childless couple or an evil stepmother.)

The important part of the story is wholeness came first.  Then something happened to destroy it. In my story,  evil is inescapable, it happened.  Without complete knowledge – both the wholeness and its contradiction – I am prey for the smiley-face tyranny, the bamboozlement in liberal reality.  With the story, the capacity for meaning – a divine-like, poet-like power – has been restored.  

Knowing evil does not make me blind to it, but the opposite.  I need not and must not accept: the system that discounts the extravagant need of the very young and the vulnerable generally for protection and safety, and which consequently conspires against meaningful acknowledgment of the original wholeness.  Once, Christian baptism at least acknowledged the need for such protection of souls; now the soul must suffer its fate in a society where my iphone screen, my job – maybe my gun – is more necessary than my soul.  In the absence of elders who teach us to protect the vulnerable,  identity is achievable only if I rely upon caste, which assures me my (white peoples’) illusion of invulnerability is truth. 


Moral ambiguity flourishes in imaginations limited to liberal reality.  That limitation prevents alignment with the lower caste which is, after all, an act of imagination.  Lacking the capacity to identify with the lowest,  we can be sincerely baffled as to which side in a “conflict” calls us morally either to be supportive or to condemn.  The “dilemma”  reaches excruciating formulation in the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Our imaginations dominated by images from the Holocaust, crippled in our capacity to identify with the most vulnerable in the scenario playing out in front of us, many liberals side with the ones who, though they deceive us,  allow us to to remain secure in our caste belief: “we’re better than other people, we’re superior in our morality and our perceptions of the world.” (Daniel Ellsberg)

In the fog of deception that is liberal reality, there is somewhere we now must turn to find the moral compass we lack.  Set morally adrift in the absence of both belief and of poetry,  I must find out for myself the truth that can be my basis for moral certainty!  Not, I hasten to add, by (only) reading the wise words from tradition (Do unto others, etc.,”) but by finding in the lowness of my own discounted heart the certainty that eludes me.  In order to do that, I will have to find out what happened to my imagination.  I must have my story.

Is this, about there being a story – my story –  merely what I long to hear? Is it wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky? I can never know for certain. But the question hardly matters.  For if I heed this intimate “truth-speaker,” if I trust it, I find there’s something else I can identify with besides caste reality and its intrinsic, deceitful promise that “the bearer” of privilege will be protected against catastrophe. Since my story tells me there is no such protection (evil is inescapable),  my “luck” nothing more than an endorsement of denial, I’m free to let go of it.   If I do not trust the inward truth speaker there is indeed nothing in which to put my trust, no alternative source for my identity, no unambiguous Truth.  In other words, if I fail to choose to trust in that highest, most inclusive Truth, God (sic) will have “changed His address.” 

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: