2019-04-27

“...to predict and control human behavior” (Yurugu series #6)


The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior," is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]


With this series of articles on decolonizing the mind from European thought patterns we repeatedly bump into terms like “objectivity.” “rationality,” or “universalism,” all of which have close links with how Western civilization defines science. The question how science participated in yoking non-European peoples and helped with bringing about social disparity, spiritual impoverishment, and biological annihilation, can hardly be avoided. Yet the answer cannot stop with science being the innocent enabler of its own abuse. Science has no existence of its own. It comes into existence through the work of scientists alone. Scientists, though, are human beings who are inseparably embedded in the world by any number of factors – biologically, socially, mentally, economically, etc. So how can we talk of universal validity of research results and unbiased objectivity based on rational thinking, when (European) science so clearly is a product of, and entangled in, (European) culture?
Psychoanalyst and eco-socialist Joel Kovel, for instance, explains how the concept of abstraction influenced the development of European culture and thusly the course of history.
One overriding quality determines what is good and bad within the analyzed world: purity. And within the entire spectrum of reality, one aspect of knowledge fulfills this quality: abstraction. An abstract idea is a purified idea, freed from annoyingly concrete and sensuous particulars. Words themselves are abstractions. The non-sensuous senses, sight and hearing, are the mediators of abstract activity. Smell, taste and touch are concrete, syncretic, incapable of making the fine distinctions necessary to sort out what is abstract from what is sensuous. Abstraction means distance from immediate experience, the substitution of a relatively remote symbol for a given sensuous reality. Sight and hearing are thus those senses which best fulfill the possibility of a remote relationship to the world. Western civilization began its expansion with the discovery of perspective, and the perfection of remote, visually organized abstracted activities – whether in navigation or in the development of firearms that could kill from a distance. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p133, quoted after Marimba Ani)
Joel Kovel; by Thomas Good / NLN [CC BY-SA 4.0]
All this goes to show that philosophy, science, and technology are exactly not ethically neutral, but come with far-reaching implications.
In my blog I have discussed such topics a number of times already. There is no need to repeat all that; so please allow me to refer you to previous articles carrying the label Science & Scientism.
Today we'll focus on an African-centered perspective on this most important tool of European civilization. Marimba Ani, in her seminal book, Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, obviously cannot avoid this topic. Reviewing European political and philosophical history, she traces some of the relevant values back to Plato, but she also points out that their roots originate much deeper in time than just 2500 years. From her understanding – which I wholeheartedly support – there is a fundamental difference between European and other worldviews:
The African metaphysic, the Native American and Oceanic “majority cultures” (it is safe to generalize here), all presuppose a fundamental unity of reality based on the organic interrelatedness of being; all refuse to objectify nature, and insist on the essential spirituality of a true cosmos. What became known as the “scientific” view was really the European view that assumed a reality precluding psychical or spiritual influences on physical, material being. This view also resulted in the elimination of a true “metaphysical” concept and of an authentic cosmology. (Yurugu, p82)
In other words, worldview translates into behaviour. Societies within the European paradigm fundamentally differ from every other culture, be it Chinese or Indian civilizations before European expansion, be it any of the so-called primitive cultures, most of which have been wiped off the face of the Earth by explorers, conquerors, missionaries, educators, and development aid workers. This historical process developed, naturally, understandably, a situation in which an objective ethnology or anthropology – even if we assume that they were basically possible – has become completely out of reach:
This study was not approached objectively. It is not possible to be objective towards Europe. Certainly the victims of its cultural, political, and economic imperialism are not objective, if they are sane. And Europeans cannot be “objective” about their own cultural history. The question then becomes: What could objectivity possibly mean in terms of human mental attitudes? (Yurugu, p23)
She answers that question comprehensively. Quoting anthropologist Ralph Beals, she points out that,
Ultimately it was hoped to establish a computer-based model that would permit the rapid prediction of various types of outcomes of social change and conflict situations and the assessment of the effectiveness of different action programs in resolving or averting conflicts. (Ralph Beals: The Politics of Social Research, 1969, p197)
concluding herself that,
This, indeed, is what the “advancement of science” means. Its significance is neither noble nor transcendent. Rather it is quite pragmatic, “profane,” and provincial – designed for the sake of prediction and control of revolutionary movements. (Yurugu, p545)

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