Author and poet Dr. Drew Dellinger uses spoken word performances to challenge science’s narrow view of human consciousness.
photo by: Gary S
I don’t quite know how the artistic gene skipped me. I have a whole side of my family who are incredible artists. I have an uncle who’s an amazing painter and sculptor and a bunch of aunts and uncles who are artistically gifted. I am not. But art speaks to me, like it speaks to many of us. The arts tell us we’re something more. On today’s show we explore the arts as an embodiment of the repudiation of materialistic science. We’re going to do it with a very talented guest who is an author and spoken word poet, Dr. Drew Dellinger. I don’t think this interview needs much of an introduction beyond that so let’s get right to my conversation with Drew Dellinger:
Alex Tsakiris: One of the things that you do that I think is really fantastic, and anyone who is familiar with your work will immediately find, you bring this–and I hesitate to use the word ‘performance’ aspect to it because that has such a strange connotation for a lot of people–but you bring a poetic, spoken word energy to it that I think is fantastic because in a lot of ways it’s the embodiment of a complete repudiation of just what you’re talking about. This crazy reductionistic science. This crazy idea that we’re biological robots. That we can use this meaningless planet that we live on as we will. It’s not just what you’re saying. It’s the way you’re saying it. That in and of itself is, like I say, a reputation of science that says, no, that doesn’t matter. How you say things doesn’t matter. Stirring people’s emotions? That doesn’t really matter. Emotions aren’t real. What do you think about that in terms of spoken word as the vehicle for the change for the movement?
Drew Dellinger: Absolutely. I really think what you’re tapping into says so much about what I call the power of art. One of the things I look at inspired by Thomas Berry is what I call the power of dream; the power of story; the power of art; and the power of action. I talk about building a movement that connects ecology and social justice and cosmology using the power of dreams, story, art, and action. So I think art is absolutely pivotal to understanding our relationship to reality, and also how we’re going to move imaginatively into the future. Those are just some of the links that I make between art and activism. It really comes down to what you’re saying about embodiment. There’s a social justice term where we talk about pre-figurative politics…that we need to embody the kind of politics and the kind of political change that we seek. [It’s] what we need to embody right now as we do this work for social transformation. That’s what pre-figurative politics means and so I think what you’re tapping into–that’s really what the arts give us an experience of. The arts give us an experience of liberation. The arts give us an experience of compassion, and equanimity, and awe, and wonder.
Read Excerpts From Interview:
Alex Tsakiris: What always comes to mind for me is the Emperor’s New Clothes fable by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s the story where there’s this little boy in the crowd who’s the only one brave enough to blurt out, “No! He doesn’t have anything on!” [Meanwhile] everyone else is afraid to speak. To me that’s such a metaphor for the state we find ourselves in with science and the craziness of how we look at environmental issues; how we look at our relationship to each other, and to the planet. It does take someone from the crowd–that little boy figure–to just blurt it out and say — that’s bullshit.
Drew Dellinger: Absolutely. And that’s part of the role of the artists in our society. And I love what you’re saying about how a lot of the ways the art is the antidote; or has had to carry the opposite pole of the domination of the mental rationalists, scientistic orientation of our society. So the arts and the romantic tradition–those streams have had to hold the heart and the humanities; and our connection to spirit in this mental rationalist, scientistic, mechanistic, reductionist paradigm. So I love what you’re saying, and it blends where art and philosophy and worldview, activism and embodiment all blend together.
Alex Tsakiris: One thing I really like about what you’re saying is–especially at the beginning how you emphasized a knowledge, a reeducation, a relearning [of] our history. Because I think a lot of people jump to the end game and [say], oh my God, I don’t want that action. They see whatever they understand to be the consequences of coming to grips with [racism; sexism] as something they don’t want to do. I don’t want to pay reparations. I don’t want to have ‘those people’ move in next to me whether ‘they’ be Muslims or whatever. They just can’t get over that. The way I see it is the important first step is knowledge; just being able to take it in [and] being able to really, honestly look at the map the best you can and understand it. And then I think action comes out of that.
Alex Tsakiris: It’s always going to be a crapshoot when we’re trying to figure out what the right action is, right?
Drew Dellinger: That’s absolutely right. That’s why we do need spiritual practice and we need to follow the leadership of people who have been engaged in these issues, and the leadership of the communities that are most affected. And who are the most effective as well. So I think there’s many different issues at play like you were talking about. One is the issue [where] folks can come into a situation and if they’re not really connected to the community that’s most affected, they can sometimes–though their intentions may be good–make a situation worse. Or they can just be perpetuating their conscious and unconscious racism and sexism as they try to build movements against racism and sexism. So that’s one of the ironies that we’ve seen in movements in the past.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me back up and approach this issue of discernment from another angle [regarding] science. One of the things that you bring to your work and you mentioned in the beginning is a scientific sensibility. And you don’t flinch from hard science questions. You roll up your sleeves and get in there and understand them. It brings to mind an interview that I had with Dr. Henry Bauer who is professor emeritus at Virginia Tech–a longtime intellectual and academic. He wrote this book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine. We did the interview and the show ended up being titled, “UN Says African American Women Twenty Times More Likely for HIV-AIDS: Are They Racist or Just Stupid?” Now that’s my title but what I was trying to provoke among people is this idea of how racism gets slipped into and institutionalized in our science [and] in our medicine in ways that we never would even imagine. But the problem with discernment here, it is a full-time job sometimes to wrestle these issues to the ground.
Drew Dellinger: I think part of what it points to for me is we’re in a time of transitioning worldview–worldviews, I should say because I think we all have this kaleidoscopic mix of different ideas and worldviews washing in and out of our consciousness; and our consciousness as a whole society and culture. So I do think we’re in a period where we’re seeing the questioning of science and the kind of dogmatic scientism.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me refine this because in this case I think it’s more than that. I guess what I’m saying and I’d like to get your response to…take what I just said. We break it down. What one has to come to is a real firm understanding of how [the UN] could publish such an outrageous statistic. Maybe it’s true. Maybe AIDS is this sexually transmitted disease all the way that they say it, and maybe our HIV tests are 100 percent accurate. Then that just doesn’t wash that African American women would be 20 times more likely. So then you go over to Dr. Bauer and say, how do you explain it? And he says it’s because one, this HIV test we have is not really testing for what we think it is, and the connection between isolating the HIV virus and that being the sole cause of AIDS versus being another factor, etc. So there’s all of this [varied] science. That’s my point. If you really listen to the people, they say, this is how we really have to deconstruct it. So the tip-off is this racist, infused sensibility that [would make] them even publish that. I don’t think they would publish it if it was the other way around: “White women in their 40s are twenty times more likely for HIV-AIDS.” Everyone would stand up and say, that doesn’t make any sense! You told us it’s a sexually transitted disease or intravenous drug use. That doesn’t make sense–white women in their 40s. Something must be wrong with the science. But this slips through because it taps into a bias that we already have. Yeah, maybe it’s true. There’s both the racism that allows it to slip through and the underlying dogmatism of science. And then there’s the impossibility of sifting through all of this. You could spend a year researching this to find out how full of shit they really are.
Drew Dellinger: I think that says a lot about the power of story. And the dogmatic story of science becomes a cover for these deeper stories of racism. We’ve certainly seen racist science; racism kind of developed as a racist science, and to some extent throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. So we’ve definitely seen science in the service of–what is projected as ‘objective science’ actually just serving world views and delusions of racism and white supremacy.
More From Skeptiko
music by: Cassette Tape Bandits