29 April 2009

On Roles, Consciousness, and Activism

In the sweltering sala within the village wat, P’Suvit attempts to shed light on issues of social responsibility and consciousness building that students have been struggling with throughout the progression of the program.

Prior to meeting him, certain key items about him were made known to us. One, he had shot a man. Two, he can expel rant upon rant on the pitfalls of capitalism. And lastly, we have been advised that to truly comprehend his responses sometimes we must trust that his tendency to speak on divergent topics is his way of helping students to understand the complexity of the issue.

For any individual, the task of providing the answers to questions surrounding these issues is an overwhelming one. Our questions are far-ranging: What exactly constitutes as positive and equitable social change? And what is our role in this world of carefully placed and volatile power lines, structural adjustment programs, and dog-eat-dog neoliberalist ideology? Furthermore, how do you adequately address the expansive needs of students from diverse backgrounds, the majority of whom have had few to no levels of previous organizing experience and some whom may not readily identify as activists?

In considering this, I believe P’Suvit chose to address social consciousness in terms of a constantly developing process that is as much internal as it is focused on observing the external. “The first step is to develop an inner-consciousness,” says P’Suvit. “The next step is to act on that consciousness”.

Understandably, this can be frustrating for students who wonder, “Well, exactly what kind of consciousness are we striving to develop?” In this sense, it is not clear whether P’Suvit was talking about a political or moral consciousness, but presumably, it could mean that the two are inherent to one another. According to P’Suvit, the concept of right and wrong becomes obvious if one observes the way power is structured. One only has to look at the way decisions are made by authorities to see where their favoritism lies, and as this is a persistent trend on a global scale, what kind of conclusion can we draw from this? The evidence is there. We only need to keep interrogating it.

How this consciousness is to look like is no finite idea. It is dynamic and constantly evolving. When I think of this and what P’Suvit has said, I can’t help but remember my friend’s (and fellow activist) advice from back home: “Consider the challenges before you as a way for you to perfect your personal methodology for dealing”. I can’t help to think how true this is, especially now.

Muriel Leung - Sarah Lawrence College


Anonymous said...

I found P’Suvit’s comments on social consciousness intriguing and a confusing. This may not relate but I feel that part of that consciousness is knowing when is enough, a concept also brought up by P’Suvit. Being aware of what one needs, I feel, is a type of self consciousness that is necessary in making social change. I agree whole heartedly with P’Suvit’s statement that each of us most know what is enough and cannot impose that on one another. I plan on taking this idea back home and applying it in my everyday life. I am going to start using things until they are dead and will constantly ask myself “do I really need this.” I need to start practicing what I preach. I will also be more careful about what I preach because I will be more aware of other people’s consciousness. I will still encourage people to think about what is needed and encourage people to think about where they are buying their stuff from. P’Suvit truly gave us a lot to think about.


Anonymous said...


Like Shannon I was very interested in Suvit's comment about what is enough. Back in Unit 1, I head P'Bamrung speak the praises of localization and sustainable organic farming ventures. He argued that if we stopped being consumers, if we stopped caring about material possessions and used only what we could make or get for free, the world's problems of poverty and debt would be solved. While I understood why he would beleive this, I found it very hard to agree with him because I dont think its feasible in this day and age to return to a self-sustaining lifestyle, especially not in America. Globalization is and will happen no matter what, its a force outside our hands. Suvit's view seems much more logical and feasible to me than P'Bamrung's. I thought his idea of 'enough' allowed for people to live in a developing, globalized economy while also be socially conscious and cut back on extraneous consumption. Cutting down, or thinking 'do I really need this?' will help reduce the problems in a way that everyone can participate in. Its not as huge as Bamrung's idea, and it is and idea that I feel I can take home with me and actually tackle, and idea that I WILL take home with me and actually act on.

-Melissa M