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Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity's Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism
by Vanessa Machado De Oliveira


"Hospicing Modernity" by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira is a provocative and challenging book that invites readers to confront the limits and consequences of modernity. Instead of focusing on fixing or replacing it, Oliveira argues that we need to learn how to hospice it, offering it compassionate assistance as it dies. This requires a profound shift in our thinking, feeling, and relating to the world.

The book's central argument: Modernity is a living entity, a complex adaptive system that is reaching its end. It has caused immense harm through its reliance on colonialism, violence, and unsustainable practices, while also offering certain benefits and comforts. Instead of clinging to these benefits, Oliveira encourages us to face modernity's inevitable death with humility and integrity, recognizing both its flaws and its gifts.

Key concepts:

  • Modernity/coloniality: Oliveira uses this term to highlight the inextricable link between modernity and colonialism, arguing that the benefits we associate with modernity are built on historical and ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples and the exploitation of the Earth.
  • Wording vs. worlding: Modernity encourages us to "word the world" - to impose fixed meanings and categories on reality. However, Oliveira argues that we need to "world the world," engaging with stories as living entities that move and transform us, rather than simply describing reality.
  • The bus within us: This metaphor represents the multiple layers of our internal world, including our unconscious beliefs, desires, and experiences. By acknowledging these complexities, we can better understand our own complicity in the harms of modernity.
  • Depth education: Oliveira contrasts this with mastery education, which aims for predictable learning outcomes and competency-based skills. Depth education, on the other hand, involves engaging with complexity, discomfort, and uncertainty, and seeking deeper understanding.
  • Radical tenderness: This practice encourages us to cultivate compassionate engagement with ourselves and others, recognizing our mutual vulnerabilities and interconnectedness.
  • Getting to zero: This refers to dismantling the hierarchical structures of modernity that create a sense of "plus one" (superior) and "minus one" (inferior). It's about achieving a state of balance and interdependence with all living beings and the Earth.
  • The House of Modernity: This metaphor represents the structures of modernity, highlighting its reliance on separability, conquest, and unsustainable practices.
  • The four mountains: This Indigenous story describes the four stages of life - baby, warrior, hunter/provider, and elder - emphasizing the importance of learning from mistakes and becoming accountable to the well-being of all relations.
  • Metabolic intimacies: Oliveira challenges us to think beyond individualistic concepts of self and embrace the interconnectedness of all life through the lens of metabolism, a dynamic process of exchange and transformation.

The book's structure:

  • Part 1: Warm-up/Prep Work - introduces the concept of hospicing modernity and provides tools for readers to engage with the text.
  • Part 2: Hospicing Modernity - explores various aspects of modernity's death, including its historical origins, its effects on global relations, and the challenges of finding alternative ways of living and relating.

The book's style:

  • Storytelling: Oliveira uses personal stories, metaphors, and Indigenous teachings to convey complex ideas and encourage readers to engage on a visceral level.
  • Exercises: The book is filled with exercises designed to help readers identify their own patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating, and to open up to new possibilities.

Key takeaways:

  • Modernity's dominance has created a world based on violence, exploitation, and unsustainable practices.
  • We need to face the truth about our complicity in this system and develop a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness with the Earth and all living beings.
  • The path to healing involves recognizing our own vulnerabilities, releasing harmful desires, and embracing a more ethical and sustainable way of being.
  • This is a difficult and ongoing process that requires courage, humility, and a willingness to learn from our mistakes.

Overall, "Hospicing Modernity" is a crucial book for our time. It offers a vital alternative to the dominant narratives of progress and provides a framework for envisioning a more just and sustainable future.