Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Dr. Sayan Dey - Senior Advisor, Quality Education Program
A Sketch by Dr. Sayan Dey
Self-Introduction: An Encounter with “Mainstream”
I was born in the year 1989 and the very next year I was diagnosed with the neurological problem of Epilepsy. Amongst several side effects, two major impacts of epilepsy on me were stammering and a weak memory. Stammering made me ‘comical’ and a weak memory made me ‘stupid’. As a result, the society consistently reminded me that with such forms of ‘lackness’ I can never be a part of the socio-cultural mainframe because I do not conform to the patterns of existential perfectness. The heavy dosage of capsules also made me put a lot of weight. So, very soon I was also adjectivized as an ‘ugly obese’. By the time I had my first encounter with a collective social space of family, neighbors, friends and tutors I was a perfect object of socio-cultural mockery packaged as ‘comical’, ‘stupid’ and ‘obese’. I still remember how my classmates will laugh at me when I will stammer while interacting in the class or my friends in the residential locality will mimic and mock my stammering. I continue to recollect, how my tutors will not ask me questions in the class because I could not speak ‘clearly’. I continue to remember how my ‘normal’ friends will not interact with the ‘abnormal’ me because often my presence became a source of embarrassment for them. I keep on reminding myself that with the passage of time how my ways of learning, understanding and sharing were systemically and epistemically dehumanized, declassified and rejected as ‘invalid’ and ‘stupid’. Yes, each and every moment I remind myself that how the mainstream socio-political structure tried to force me in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ knowledge system and how my mind and body consistently resisted against it. I consistently recollect, remember and remind myself of these experiences not for the sake of gaining public sympathy, but to consciously engage in the exercise of dis-membering the stigma and celebrate ‘stupidity’ as a powerful phenomenon of gaining, sharing and acknowledging the diversities of knowledge systems.
Phenomenology of Stupidity
With the passage of time, such experiences pushed me towards a form of existential and epistemological crisis on the one side and it provoked me to probe into the notion of stupidity from a phenomenological perspective on the other. Some of the questions that underlined my investigation are:
Under what circumstances an individual is identified as ‘stupid’?
What are the various possibilities of de-stigmatizing the notion of being stupid and embracing it as a habitual praxis of acknowledging the different forms of knowledge systems that exist across the globe?
Keeping these two questions at the forefront, the first aspect that I realized with the notion of stupidity is that it is not a mere verbal abuse but a carefully carved phenomenon of systematically silencing and dehumanizing certain modes of knowledge sharing and replacing them with certain uni-directional, uni-versal and authoritative systems of knowledge production. This phenomenological exercise has enabled the institutions like family, society, schools, colleges, etc. to manufacture a set of epistemic empires, which successfully control and channelize certain knowledge systems by reducing individuals from the status of ‘I can freely/diversely think, therefore I am’ to a handicapped status of ‘I cannot/should not think, therefore I am not’. I further understood this aspect, when I started positioning my experiences within a wide collective space. Especially during my college days, I started knowing a lot of individuals, who have undergone identical experiences in their families, societies and schools. For instance, during my college days I knew a classmate of mine who was a fantastic footballer. In fact, he went on to represent the university team at the national level. His skills gained the attention of the scouts and he was called by the state national football team for trials. But, very unfortunately he could not make it. Why? Because his parents thought that he is ‘blunt and stupid’ in studies and without rote learning and getting high percentage of marks in the examinations he cannot build a fruitful career. Later on when I became a tutor, I found that many of my colleagues keep on abusing some students as ‘blunt-headed’ and ‘stupid’ because they are unable to perform up to the expectation of the subject tutors. There might be a possibility that an individual might not be capable of gaining and sharing bookish knowledge, but possesses the capability of doing it in a creative manner i.e. through sports, music, dance, painting, etc. But, very unfortunately, in India the idea of being ‘intelligent’ and ‘knowledgeable’ is highly mechanical and suffocating in nature. In order to proof one’s width and range of knowledge one is compelled to graduate in a specific set of subjects, to choose a definite set of professions, to earn degrees from a definite set of institutions and to qualify a certain set of entrance examinations. In case an individual fails to fit oneself within these specific parameters, then immediately the person is subjected to ‘epistemic and ontological subalternity’. In other words, the individual will be de-recognized and deprived of any recognition as a ‘knowledgeable being’ and will be subjected to ridicule. This is why; we find that many people regret about the fact that they have failed to find a job in a reputed institution (or failed to find a job at all) because of their failure to get a degree from a specific school/college/university. In order to counter-resist this malignant practice, it is important to embrace and exercise the phenomenon of stupidity in a celebrative manner.
Stupidity as a Pluriversal Aesthetic
The memories of experiences that I have shared till now in this article, will remain incomplete if I do not share a few possibilities of stupidity can be embraced as a pluriversal phenomenon of gaining and sharing knowledge. As I positioned my experiences in a collective space and tried to analyze it in a collective manner, I realized that the dehumanizing phenomenon of being stupid can be interrogated and dismantled through stupidity as a weapon of ‘rehumanization and pluriversal acknowledgement.’ According to the Webster-Merriam dictionary, the term ‘stupid’ is defined as “slow of mind”; “acting in an unintelligent and careless manner”, “dulled in feeling and sensation”, “marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting” and “lacking interest or point”. I firmly believe that in our habitual process of intellectual development, it is extremely crucial to experience the above mentioned phases. In other words, it is important for each and every one us to have a slow mind, to act in an unintelligent and careless manner, to be dulled in feeling and sensation, to act and think in an unreasoned manner and to lack interest for the following reasons:
Self-Confession: Before trying to learn something, it is important for us to indulge in a self-confession. The self-confession should be that ‘I do not know anything, therefore I should try to learn as much as possible in a diverse and holistic manner’. This self-confession is important because psychologically it opens our mind to receive and engage with different perspectives of knowledge in an unauthoritative and de-hierarchical manner. It also enables us to acknowledge each other’s differences, which Portuguese thinker Boaventura de Sousa Santos argues as “depolarized pluralities”. The exercise of self-confession makes us realize that it is not necessary to agree with each other. Rather it is important to agree to disagree because the act of disagreement is a “form of communication and is an exchange of ideas”. In order to transform knowledge from a ‘capitalistic ritual of production’ towards an ‘all-inclusive process of distribution’, it is extremely crucial to undergo the exercise of self-confession.
Unprejudiced Knowledgegasm: The exercise of self-confession also enables an individual to gain and share knowledge in an unprejudiced manner. Usually, our process of approaching any form of knowledge is widely underlined with multiple forms of social, cultural, geographical, communal, political and racial prejudices, which ultimately leads to generating binaries like good knowledge/bad knowledge, authentic knowledge/inauthentic knowledge, high knowledge/low knowledge, rich knowledge/poor knowledge, etc. In order to dismantle these violent illogical binaries of knowledge development, it is important to approach and experience the different frameworks of knowledge without any preconceived ideologies. This approach provokes individuals to question every form of epistemic establishments, rather than accepting them at its face value. Moreover, it also convinces individuals that it is more important to ask questions rather than drawing borders through conclusive statements.
A Journey towards Non-Conclusion: Unprejudiced urge for gaining and sharing knowledge makes an individual realize that the purpose of knowledge distribution is not to have a final conclusion of/for everything. It is only possible to build up, multiply and transmute the existing structures of knowledge dissemination by accepting the open-endedness, diversity and the non-conclusive nature of planetary knowledge systems.
One of the prominent ways of accepting this diversity is to embrace and celebrate stupidity as a de-hirerarchical and pluriversal phenomenon of learning, unlearning, curating and distributing knowledge across the globe.
Dr.Sayan Dey grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. He completed B.A. (English), M.A. (English) and PhD (English) from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and is currently working as Lecturer, Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. Before joining there he worked as an Assistant Professor, Amity Law School, Noida and Lecturer at Faculty of Humanities, Royal Thimphu College, Bhutan. With respect to his research on decoloniality he has been awarded several international conference and project grants – German Research Foundation Conference Grant (2016 and 2017), Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship (2017), GAPS Travel Grant (2018), Journal of International Women’s Studies Fellowship (2018 and 2019) and Volkswagen Foundation Scholarship (2019).