By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
WHERE Renē Descartes, as one of the founders of Euro-American linear philosophy, said: “I think, therefore I am,” the African philosopher says: “I relate therefore I am.”
My identity is the result of the relationships I was born into, the relationships I grew up in, the relationships I grew up to create and grow.
Thought and language are also products of relationships.
Thought is relational.
Language is relational.
No child anywhere in the world has ever been born into rights. Every child is born into relationships, good or bad, harmful and dangerous or optimal and nurturing.
That is why human relationships matter a lot.
The African Relational philosophy of hunhu/ubuntu teaches that there are three fundamental bases of hunhu/ubuntu, bases of what makes a human being:
- The first base (pfiwa) is the physical entity, the body, and it is the locus of survival.
Is the physical entity viable, strong, secured?
This principle applies to individuals, families, communities, organisations, nations. We can mark this base ‘S’ for survival.
- The second base (pfiwa) is space, land, place, the locus of autonomy and the source of sustenance.
Here, autonomy is seen as capacity to earn or own one’s own space and place, capacity to come and go in one’s own space and place.
For the entire human race as an entity, the earth so far is our shared place and space, our shared source of sustenance and sustainability. The productive earth is not raw material.
It is a living organism with requirements for its own survival and sustenance as well. We can make this base ‘A’ for autonomy.
When we sit in the dariro we always leave space in the middle of the circle as a metaphor for that common space that belongs to all.
- The third base (pfiwa) is the locus of relationships, institution of solidarity. We can mark this base ‘I’, for institution, with the whole basic triad coming out as ‘S-A-I’.
Therefore hunhu/ubuntu means the balance of the three mapfiwa in the character of the person.
What these bases mean is that African relational philosophy defines munhu/umuntu, the human being, as one essentially raised to be and, in turn, aims to be the nurturer of life in terms of the three mapfiwa of unhu.
How a human being was constituted in African society
The nurturer of hunhu/ubuntu, the nurturer of human life, human dignity and human autonomy in African relational philosophy is not the equivalent of the human rights activist in Eurocentric human rights doctrine.
The two are constituted differently, if not in opposite directions.
The nurturer of human life and dignity in African philosophy is similar to a good artist.
He or she nurtures life, dignity and autonomy by enlarging and nurturing relationships.
He or she enlarges life by bringing together, that is via solidary constitution, as opposed to the Euro-centric activist who is driven by a propensity toward dis-selection of the other, to the extent of basing his measurement of self-worth on that ability to dis-select the African for plunder, torture and dehumanisation for the last 500 years.
The structures which apartheid man has built over the last 500 years reveal who he is in relation to humanity and human dignity.
These structures have been panel-beaten and renamed at convenient stages but they remain essentially the same apartheid structures of dis- selection, discrimination, racism and double – standards.
The structures of the human environment and the structures of the human relationships in which the child is born and raised are fundamental to our understanding of how he or she will turn out in relation to the need to nurture and defend human life, human dignity and autonomy beyond his or her own individual concerns.
According to Valeriya Mukhina in Growing Up Human:
“Growing up human means to learn to act and to comport ourselves in relation to people and objects in the way that is peculiar to human beings. When we say that the child, under the guidance of adults, masters social experience and human culture, we are alluding to his or her mastery of the skill of relating to other people via language, of correctly using articles and structures created by human hands, and of behaving in conformity with social convention.” (Mukina, 1984: 18)
That is the view in terms of social psychology.
From a moral and ideological point of view, the structures of human environment, the structures of human values and the structures of human relationships work together to produce a pattern of subjection qualification or moral interpellation which pattern qualifies the young human being by telling him or her, by relating him to or by making him or her recognise four essential lessons:
- The difference between what exists and what does not exist;
- The difference between what is good and what is bad;
- The difference between what is possible and what is not possible;
- The language which enables one to read and to create human relationships, human situations.
Eurocentric linear perspective as the antithesis of African relational philosophy
Just as the contemporary selective conscience it helps to transmit has its ancient roots in slavery, the crusades and colonialism, the linear perspective of modern digital media also has ancient beginnings.
Patriarchal Euro-American religion, philosophy, science, technology and culture, in the last 400 years, have been characterised by linear perspective.
The epistemology reflected in Rene Descartes dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” is one that leads to solipsism very much like the self-confirming claims of US Senator Helms in his address to the Security Council on January 20 2000: Americans think they are the guarantors of universal human rights, therefore they can never violate human rights.
The mass media are independent because their owners say so!
But what is this linear perspective?
It is a way of seeing, knowing and controlling the world, the self and the other which multiplies and exaggerates the power, the sense and the technique of the eye and light over all other forms of power, over other senses and over other techniques. The eye and technique of linear perspective employs distance with all its ramifications as a means of increasing its unilateral power, its lethal precision and its room to manoeuvre and as a means of gaining scope for deniability.
Its roots go back to the religious revolutions which produced father-centred religion and the vision of one jealous God who stands on the mountain peak, escapes to heaven, does not tolerate any other gods, and sends out militant prophets and evangelists who also do not tolerate any alternative ways of approaching God.
The original symbols of this vision include the mountain peak, the straight and narrow path, the cross, the ladder of hierarchy, the proscenium stage and the window of retreat.
Linear perspective has become hegemonic because it has penetrated so many levels of existence and consciousness.
- as a ‘paradigm’ or worldview;
- as a grand ‘theory’ claiming a monopoly on logical explanations while condemning alternatives as irrational, unreliable, unreal, superstitious or obsolete;
- as the best and the most efficient technique, the most practical procedure for carrying out operations;
- as an aesthetic governing notions of beauty and efficiency in art, architecture, fashion and communication;
- as technology, spawning billions of contraptions, and other monstrosities that seem to stress the desire to annihilate the human being and replace it with the machines of escape;
- as a philosophy and epistemology, self-confirming and closed to other philosophies and epistemologies; and
- as an us-and-them attitude to the world, to the other and to self.
That is why it is impossible to distinguish the content of CNN from that of BBC, Sky News, Euro News or Al Jazeera.
Some of the features of this linear perspective are crucial to the understanding of the NATO war against Yugoslavia and Libya and the US-UK war against Iran and Afghanistan.
These wars were waged in tandem with the preaching of universal human rights by the same powers.
- The first unique feature is the affinity between the fanatics of cyberism and militarism on one hand and the fanatics of certain religious sects. The most backward and repressive religious sects are today armed with the most advanced laser weapons. This is demonstrated in the US creation and arming of the Taliban and the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army.
- The second example of the operation of linear perspective is the NATO decision not to use ground troops in Yugoslavia and Libya but instead to rely on distant and faceless pilots who also reduce all the people of Yugoslavia and Libya to faceless abstractions to be represented by the singular and self-confirming image of a demonised ‘Milosovic or Gaddafi’.
The shock and awe approach to Iraq in the first stages of the war in 2003 was typical of this view. This type of warfare demonstrates the characteristics of linear power in the following ways:
- It shows the ability of the imperial power to pick and choose, not only victims and clients but also values, using the media of distance and technologies of retreat and leverage.
The Kurds of Iraq and the Kosovars are fetishised into the most deserving receivers of the Western gift of humanity and human rights, while Serbs, Quebecers and Irish nationalists are defined in the opposite way — as subversives and terrorists who deserve repression and stigmatisation.
This is the strategy of dis-selection and apartheid, opposed to the relational and solidary strategy of the African in hunhu/ubuntu.
- It uses weapons of distance and the media of retreat to make sure the bomber pilot never has to face his victims in person.
That is why there are no ground forces. Where they have to be used, they quickly barricade themselves behind razor wires and armoured tanks.
The victims receive cluster bombs and depleted uranium but they are completely prevented from returning anything, not even a glance.
This is because anything approaching a human encounter might give the aggressor some suggestion of the humanity of his victims.
He might notice that the women are just like his own mother, aunt or sister. He might recognise his own daughter among the school children or the patients in the bombed children’s ward of the hospital. So called targeted sanctions also serve the same purpose.
The targeted are so targeted because they might just convince the home population that they have a case.
Social, moral and political consequences
Serious social, political and moral consequences follow when we perpetuate a situation where lawyers, judges and state agents steeped in a philosophy which is hostile to that of the general population on one side now sit in judgement over the lives of the latter.
Here are some of the consequences:
- The same state being told to ban under-age marriages and perhaps raise the age of marital consent to 18 is also being used to liberalise prostitution and treat prostitutes as sex workers even though it is common knowledge that a third or so of them are in fact under-age girls and children.
- What this paradox on the age of sexual consent means is the removal of sex from relationships and the abolition of sex as a relationship in preference for sex as a service or commodity which can be purchased. The under-age girl who sells her body in prostitution is liberated. The one relating to a man in marriage is a slave. That is the logic of the anti-social state.
- On the human rights front the same paradox prevails at two levels: the right to determine what is good for the human being is being moved away from families, away from communities, away from schools, away from churches, synagogues and mosques so that the state becomes or pretends to be everyone’s grandmother, with the policeman, the social worker and the state health practitioner now the enforcer of human entitlements on behalf of the State.
- Eurocentric gender theory assumes that to liberate women from male oppression it is necessary to abolish all relationships based on cultural practices which distinguish women from men. In this way, the abolition of male/female difference becomes synonymous with freedom for women. Yet unisexism is not liberation.
The first problem that arises is that the conflict which was caused by trying to abolish those differences actually creates new differences, new misunderstandings and new obstacles between men and women, resulting in escalating violence between them. Forcing college boys and girls to live in the same dormitories and to share rooms results in one sex despising, if not hating, the other.
According to Professor Ken Mufuka:
“The practice of non-gender dormitories has been the norm (in the US) for the last 30 years.
Christian colleges are now restoring same sex dormitories because female students have complained bitterly that (college) boys are ‘gross and dirty’… Male barbarism (stimulated by proximity to large numbers of barely dressed women) is simply intolerable.
(The boys) seem to (be encouraged) to want to jump into beds with female room-mates without prior consultation.”
Whole governments, whole societies are being subjected to neo-liberal anti-social theory.
According to Mufuka again:
“Sex is defined as part of male dominance-female submission. This is not found in nature but is a social construct. Once the male-female dominance and submission is abolished then humans will be free to express their true sexual orientation in a variety of ways, some straight, some gay, others lesbian (and bisexual).”
This is where the anti-social nature of the neo-liberal state comes from. It assumes that all existing relations between male and female are social constructions contrary to nature.
So it tries to dismantle those social relations and to turn human beings into freely floating atoms who must discover their true nature away from established social relations but in order to establish yet new and free relations.
Part of the absurdity of this whole campaign is that the state whose institutions are set to abolish all social constructs to do with men and women, is itself a social construct. There is no such thing as a pure state derived from nature.
Those ConCourt judges belong to a minority class and their own families have their own peculiar biases and problems.
The other absurdity arises from copying methods and strategies of gender liberation struggle from the struggles of nationalist and civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
Where the British can be assumed to be separate and independent of the Kikuyus of Kenya, where the Rhodesians can be assumed to be a separate and independent group from MaDzimbahwe, this is not to be the same with husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends.
The mutual differences between men and women are the basis for their mutual independence and the basis for mutual attraction and love.
So adoption of modes of struggle borrowed from national independence movements can only lead to deadly and escalating conflict to no end.
The other part of the absurdity arises from involvement of neoliberal capitalism in the growth and promotion of this anti-social state. When the Constitutional Court seeks to abolish child marriages while liberalising prostitution and turning a blind eye to child prostitution, it is expressing the neoliberal capitalist view that sex as a commodity for sale, sex as a paid-for-service, is liberating because it avoids or abolishes the need for relationships.
Who needs binding relationships when one can convert all relationships into saleable services?
The child prostitute is free to choose a life of debauchery because there are no binding relationships. But the under-age bride is a slave because she must follow the rules of established relationships.
The absurdities of the growing anti-social state are endless.
That state is being pushed to become tete and mbuya by providing free sex education and free condoms.
But the same forces telling it to do so are also saying water should be pre-paid just like cellphone airtime.
Energy is already pre-paid.
So, the people, using their community-based intelligence, are wondering what sort of moral universe would make the state sell prepaid electricity and water while offering sex education and condoms for free?