How Can I Show Up When Everything’s Breaking Down? Transformative Justice and Kazu Haga’s Healing Resistance

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sarah madoka currie reflects on what Kazu Haga’s new book Healing Resistance has to say about healing, about restorative justice, and about the relationship between activism and academia in medical humanities contexts.

I recently had the effervescent joy of compulsively reading Kazu Haga’s Healing Resistance (2021) from cover to cover. Twice. And you may be (rightfully) asking yourself, “how does someone working in pandemic-academy times have time to read a 250-page book two times on top of teaching, learning and research processes?” And my answer to that is less salient, but perhaps a philosophical perspective that may resonate with you:

Have you ever encountered a text whose essence was so transformative, whose call to action was so radically authentic & actionable that you find yourself unable to release it from your grasp until you feel you’ve heard it out fully?

This is a slightly different orientation than those who stayed up all night reading the High Fantasy Fionavar Tapestry triadic iterations, but the outcome is similar: we find ourselves unable to put down authors who so completely arrest us with their space-weaving and ideologues of communities. And while the community of Guy Gavriel Kay’s magical-realist imagination may have been purposefully fantastical and brimming with impossible interventions, it beckoned enough of “our world” that we may see ourselves reflected in the Canadian landscapes, remixed Arthurian legends or Tolkienesque characterizations. This suspension of disbelief spun with the threads of familiarity is echoed in Haga’s imagining of what he terms Beloved Community, a distinctly Agambian “coming community” (as rendered in his sleeper epistemological hit The Coming Community) which carries enough prescient signposts to remind us we are never wholly removed from our own communities, in the same compassionate solidarity many medical humanities and critical dis/ability scholars find themselves in through activist or academic collectives. In these radical re-imaginings and re-rhetoricizations of what healing means, nonviolent aesthetics and actions may bring us closer to each other – and away from individualized theorizing — in a temporal space where we may have never felt so far apart (Brexit and Trumpism come to mind, among other larger-than-life battles).

Healing Resistance is a difficult book to summarize in the canonical sense, in part because Haga intentionally blurs the red-pen arbitrations we cut across generic norms and conventional style, instead placing himself within liminalities of social justice manifesto-professing and socio-literary deconstruction. Leveraging lived and living experience of his time unlearning, learning and later teaching Kingian nonviolence facilitation practice (a method of “room control” used in pedagogical practice and radical activism contexts) to Bay Area jails, racial justice collectives and student guerilla movements, Haga reflects on “lessons learned” – without explicitly ‘moralizing’ à la Western conventional tropes – throughout his decade of transformative organizing.

Literary poststructuralists already familiar with Giorgio Agamben’s A Coming Community may feel that much of what Haga has to add to community activism and restorative justice conversations has been said before: the rhetorical dexterity of re-casting subjectivities in our minds not as positions but as ourselves is a context familiar to philosophy and taken up beyond Agambian terms: from Hobbes (Leviathan), to Heidegger (Being in Time), to more recent Adornian translations (Minima Moralia, Negative Dialectics). These luminary dialogues ostensibly posit a radical praxis of non-binaristic relations between the “self” and “other” – asking their audiences whether there is any difference between those two terms (particularly Agamben, who rather explicitly deals with the ‘other’ as a variant of the self manifested through a different space). By failing the needs of the other, we have failed another instantiation of ourselves in different bodymind space. The captivation that Healing Resistance accomplishes is not with groundbreaking theory, but with an inspired charismatic delivery that isn’t quite didactic – but doesn’t cross the line into cautionary guilt-tripping either. This is a difficult rhetorical balance when tasked with authoring over two hundred pages of essentially didactic teachings, and it is easy for readers who do not operate in social justice activism circles to pick up on his nuanced, empathic approach to applying Kingian Nonviolence techniques in challenging contexts.

Haga tackles the challenge of reimagining a less siloed community of like-minds in a series of three “Parts”, with corresponding “Principles” or “Steps” meant to drive the reader to making changes in their own context. While Part One (“Groundwork”) and Part Two (“The Will”) are largely theoretical – with many helpful anecdotes from Haga on his own application of theory in his myriad adventures in America, Nepal and Japan – Part Three (“The Skill”) offers a series of steps toward enacting a more nonviolent lifestyle (in Kingian terms) in a multiplicity of contexts and class structures. This book was not written to appeal to a certain class or creed – Haga imagines community as everyone, even those that readers may find it unpalatable to include in their Beloved collectives:

“It’s said that you know that true reconciliation has happened when the two sides of a conflict are closer to each other than they were before the conflict started. True reconciliation is about even more than repairing relationships back to [their] original state. It’s about growth, strengthening relationships, and moving forward stronger than we were before. It’s about moving us all toward Beloved Community”. (Haga 2021: 227)

Medical humanities audiences may find the calculated immersion in philosophical-theoretical positioning with exemplar actualizations to ‘demonstrate’ theory-in-context somewhat frustrating, as it is often easy to recharacterize many of the structural and ethical incongruencies and harms Haga does raise (and seems to avoid explicitly connecting) as sociopolitical arguments easily rendered in classic medhum terminologies.  Anti-pathologization, narrative medicine, health geography do appear here in phasmic iterations, but I would argue this avoidance of academy diagnosis is intentional – part of Haga’s work in Healing Resistance is re-casting multigenerational pain and conflict into digestible chapters and conversations that orient the reader toward reciprocity and restorative contexts, while consciously avoiding aesthetic writing on these positions often seen at academic venues. In this way, the book itself enacts a kind of subculture of Beloved Community, inviting human beings of any variant expertise into the conversation and refusing to ‘speed up’ the conversation with easy medhum labels or paradigms. To Haga, a prisoner serving a life sentence may hold just as much expertise on justice and nonviolent action as a tenured scholar, an apt demonstration of the community dialectic he works tirelessly to inhabit and actualize.

The author is also quick to point out that this mindfulness/bodymind work is not easy, declaring that “[t]he work of transforming conflict into reconciliation is difficult; it is physical, emotional, and spiritual labo[u]r. But because our goal of Beloved Community is too important we choose to accept the suffering that comes with it” (Haga 2021:144). While this radical solidarity with minoritised collectives, racial and sociopolitical injustice, prisoners and survivors may be a tough commitment for much of his readership, Haga is masterful in a tactful delivery that both acknowledges the hardship of committing to solidarity while constantly highlighting that this radicalism isn’t a choice for some communities – it’s survival. Emphatic declarations throughout that “compassion is not a zero-sum game” (Haga 2021: 152) and “creating space to speak out pains, share from our hearts, and help each other carry the burden of our traumas” (Haga 2021: 197) similarly resonate with kaleidoscopic audiences who may view nonviolence as survival, a worthy cause, or a conversation worth active participation; uniting them under the common belief that in future community, we are all worth fighting for.

Serendipitously, the same week I finished my (first) reading of this text, Kazu Haga himself did a live Q&A session as part of his work with Partners Global, an American activist collective. The recording of this talk, if you are not in a place to read the book, is worth watching (here, publicly available) both for his expansion on concepts extolled in the book, and for mindful compassionate commentary on how he sees Kingian Nonviolence practice in post-Trumpism and whether he sees any discernable ‘limit’ to Beloved Community (spoiler: he doesn’t). Some conversations in this work and the accompanying Q&A do require a primer on restorative justice as theorized in the Western context (brown’s We Will Not Cancel Us (2021) is a great start) – particularly on the complexities of negative peace and creating structural leverage. Haga nonetheless provides stellar introductions and meditations on the incredibly complicated arena of social justice activism, postmodern resistance, and the Kingian Nonviolence methodology he has spent most of his life teaching myriad audiences.

And even if he doesn’t quite convince you to take up arms and mount your first sit-in at a local political office against some form of structural inequity, Haga will convince you in a relentlessly accessible manner how to show up meaningfully for others in the spaces you do feel comfortable manifesting yourself in, whether wholly digital or offline. In the continued mires of divisionist 2021, this is a great gift for our collective spirits. One might even call it healing.

Healing Resistance by Kazu Haga was published in 2021 by Parallax Press.

sarah madoka currie is a doctoral candidate & lecturer of dis/ability and madness (Mad Studies) at the University of Waterloo, Canada. As an activist, compassionate research and increased healthcare equity for psychiatric survivors and psychiatric service users are the soapboxes she re- and de-constructs at multilingual conferences in Canada, America, France, India, Japan and the southern United Kingdom. If our research and writing isn’t inspiring hope and increased collaboration in well-researched community-based care solutions, we are not doing enough with our myriad privileges.

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