By Prof Artwel Nhemachena
COLONIALISTS have historically dispossessed Africans of material resources and with the emergent mind control, memory editing and deleting technologies, it would be easy to similarly dispossess other people of their minds and memories.
We are also being told that there are technoscientific innovations to edit and delete human genes such that “…we end up with better breeds of humans”, in the order of what is being called new eugenics.
But we are never told anything about the implications of such technologies for the social production of ignorance and the attendant geopolitics of ignorance.
To have one’s genes edited and deleted is to lose the basis for claims for reparations and restitution for historical wrongs.
After all, genealogies are the foundations for heritages such that to tamper with genealogies and genetics is, by extension, to tamper with heritages.
After all, one becomes a new and different entity after the application of the emerging nanofabrication, synthetic biology, gene editing and genome editing.
Indeed, we are also told that there are technoscientific innovations to scan and transfer human minds from the biological brains to the clouds or into technological substrates.
But we are never informed about the implications of such technologies on the colonisation of the mind and the attendant geopolitics of ignorance.
After all, when human minds are merged with technology in the form of brain nanorobots, which are patented, the brain’s thought processes would begin to belong to the companies whose patented technologies have been merged with the brain.
Africa needs technological sovereignty.
Of course, ‘technoscience’ is a term coined to refer to the connections between science, technology, society and politics.
In other words, there are no longer any pretensions of separations between science and politics – within the emergent technoscience, in Bruno Latour’s sense.
Science has abated its goal of purification because it is now connected to politics, power, culture and to new technologies designed to reverse-engineer the human brains in Ray Kurzweil’s sense.
But the question is: If colonial governments colonised the minds of colonial subjects, what guarantee is there that today’s new technologies to reverse-engineer the human brain, and to edit and delete human memories will not be used to recolonise the human minds?
Similarly, if, as was the case, colonial governments destroyed the colonial archives before handing over power to post independence governments, what guarantee is there that technologies to reverse-engineer the human minds, and to edit and delete human memories will not be used to destroy the minds, or whatever is archived in the human minds?
As part of what I call the geopolitics of ignorance, colonial governments destroyed incriminating national archives which would have constituted an embarrassment to the British imperial government. To provide a picture of this kind of geopolitics of ignorance, allow me to quote Cobain (2023) who notes thus:
“In Northern Rhodesia, colonial officials were issued with further orders to destroy ‘all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or religious bias on the part of Her Majesty’s government’. Detailed instructions were issued over methods of destruction in order to erase all evidence of the purge. When documents were burned, ‘the waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up’, while any that were being dumped at sea must be ‘packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast’.”
Ignorance is not merely a residue of knowledge, as scholars like Proctor have noted, but ignorance is actively craved in order to secure strategic advantages, to evade litigation and to secure or enhance profits.
It is not only private commercial businesses that seek to profit from ignorance, or from what other sociologists of ignorance call strategic unknowns.
Colonial governments and imperial governments also sought to profit from the ignorance of the colonial subjects.
Matters of ignorance are not only individual issues but they are also geopolitical issues in so far as they can be mapped across geographical spaces, including imperial spaces.
While colonial cartographers have productively mapped the geographies of the world, they sadly ignored the contours of socially produced ignorance on the geographical spaces so mapped.
The fact that we have been made to believe that colonialism brought pure knowledge is testimony of colonial attempts to ignore what I call cartographies of socially produced ignorance and the associated geopolitics of ignorance.
Of course, it is part of politics to decide what to include and exclude, yet politics also seeks to profit from that which it excludes and outsources, in this case, ignorance.
The point here is not to argue that geopolitics of ignorance is performed solely by politicians but transnational corporations which have become more powerful than some States in the world do actively play geopolitics of ignorance for purposes of monopolising profit-making in the world.
Indeed, we are told that during the COVID-19 pandemic, some global pharmaceutical corporations made profits of US$65 000 every minute.
Profits racked from COVID-19 vaccines were possible because of geopolitics of ignorance in which some ‘cures’ from some geographies of the world were dismissed as crank, delusory and ineffective.
Global capitalists do not only profit from claiming patents and marketing their products, including vaccines and other medicines in the world; they also profit through geopolitics of ignorance in which they make the other regions of the world believe that they have ignorance, or they actually make other regions of the world ignorant of alternatives to the patented products.
Drawing on Michael Callon’s sociology of translation, I argue here that geopolitics of ignorance involves creating obligatory passage points by pillorying other regions of the world as ignorant in order to pivot one’s strategic position.
In other words, the geopolitics of ignorance includes the politics of naming the other as ignorant, for strategic reasons.
Thus, much as scholars often speak in terms of the global political economy of knowledge, there is also the global political economy of ignorance which explains how some regions of the world profit from distributing or casting ignorance, which is to say, from casting spells of ignorance on others.
Colonisation is not necessarily achieved by imposing knowledge on the colonised but by casting spells of ignorance on them, through the geopolitics of ignorance.
In a world wherein not only knowledge has been mobilised as an apparatus for geopolitics, it is essential to also think in terms of geopolitics of ignorance to denote ways in which ignorance has been and is often strategically created and used to geopolitical effect in the world.
Referring to ways in which geographies, time, politics and ignorance often overlay one another in spatial terms, the notion of geopolitics of ignorance enables us to map the spatial distribution of socially produced ignorance.
Put differently, the notion of geopolitics of ignorance does not assume that ignorance is always natural, but it also posits that ignorance is actively produced, mobilised and deployed in a world wherein some seek to monopolise knowledge and associated economic benefits of the knowledge economies.
The geopolitics of ignorance enables us to see ignorance not merely as an attribute of some individuals, but with it, we see that ignorance can be mapped in terms of geographical regions in the world.
In this regard, it becomes possible to question why regions of ignorance often correspond with geographies that are subjected to colonisation, capitalist dispossession and exploitation.