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African Historical Worldviews and Access to a Distinctive African Modernity

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  • Jacques L. Hamel
    Dear members of HitoryNotes, Some members of the group may be interested in the blog below on a strategy - a strategy of `Subversive Rationalization - to pull
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2008
      Dear members of HitoryNotes,

      Some members of the group may be interested in the blog below on a
      strategy - a strategy of `Subversive Rationalization' - to pull
      Africa towards some form of distinctive modernity . Any comment?

      Jacques L. Hamel

      "The world we have created is the product of our thinking. It cannot
      be changed without changing our thinking" Albert Einstein

      "Science is a way of thinking much more than a body of knowledge"
      Carl Sagan

      The objective of this blog is to share ideas on a strategy - a
      STRATEGY OF SUBVERSIVE RATIONALIZATION - for uncovering modernity in
      Africa. The strategy emphasizes the internalization of the scientific
      method and rational modes of thinking as well as the assimilation of
      crucial scientific knowledge, as the epistemological foundation of
      any kind of modernity. It also stresses the necessity of renovating
      conformist, traditionalist or totalizing belief and knowledge
      systems, worldviews and cultures, that stand in the way to essential
      changes on the road to modernity - a mega-project of autonomization,
      individuation, rationalization, demystification and feminization
      processes (less patriarchal forms). Modernity is also a project of
      democratization, liberalization, secularization, trans-
      nationalization, systematization, technocratization and humanization

      The strategy relies on scientific knowledge, which offers only
      incomplete and patchy theories of the real but nonetheless possibly
      the best models of reality, for reordering and reconstructing the
      African reality and for engaging it with up to date, robust and
      economically efficient technical know-how. More generally, it relies
      on calculative thinking and on the scientific tradition as the most
      viable civilizational horizon of a budding region, whose tortuous and
      uncertain transition to modernity may necessitate an imaginative
      strand of thinking and a complementary strategy. Triumphant techno-
      scientific dogmas need not lead inevitably to the devastation,
      excesses and wastefulness of post-industrial consumerist cultures.
      They need not to be a model for an African modernity, which can avoid
      being exceedingly obsessed, enframed or ordered by technology.

      Humans, knowledge and technology are co-emerging, co-evolutive and
      mutually co-constitutive of each other. And as soon as we are born we
      enter into a corrupted reality: corrupted by ancient customary
      thinking, viewpoints and taboos; corrupted by ancestors' tyrannies,
      norms and ideals; corrupted by the veiling visions of pre-
      contemporary cosmologies, revelations and prophecies; corrupted by
      inherited alien religious canons and credos – including those of
      Constantinian Christianity and Imperial Islam, which from a
      scientific perpective can be assimilated to blind lotteries
      (confirmed by statistics) of self-confirming systems of medieval
      prejudices; corrupted by lies, mis-information and deceptions;
      corrupted by spirits, divinities and other similar cultural
      paradigms; and, more universally, corrupted by conventional modes of
      thinking, knowing, understanding and being.

      The strategy of Subversive Rationalization aims at
      freeing, `uncorrupting' or modernizing mentalities and mindscapes,
      thus opening the way to the emergence of some brand of original
      modernity on the African continent, going further than the simple
      ownership and display of modernity's most visible technological
      signs. It aims at reforming the technological code with key
      technologies: of the self, of sign, of freedom, of change, of
      creativity, of power and of truth. These technologies are fundamental
      for guiding the `rebirth' of the self, or for cultivating
      the `reborn' Afro-self as a more modern self; for enlarging the
      freedom necessary for the required societal transformations; for
      evolving effective technological symbols and meanings, such as those
      of a generous and mobilizing vision of a modern Africa; for designing
      and manufacturing appropriate material artefacts; for innovating in
      processes of change, including technologically-induced socio-cultural
      change; for reordering power configurations; and for uncovering,
      producing or reconstructing truth – an essential technology in a sea
      of lies, half-truths, self-delusions, clichés, cock-and-bull stories,
      and an important constitutive element of modernity.

      If `ideas shape the course of history' (Keynes) or if `imagination
      shapes history' (Napoleon) then access to modernity entails going
      past inflationary rhetorical discourse, utopian dreams and ceremonial
      entertainments. It requires subversive ideas and actions and a
      methodology that can engineer radical and terribly complex
      adjustments in the intricate inner working of African communities.
      It calls for critical thinking, dialogue, self-examination, `self-
      exorcism' and outright `war' against the conservative supremacy of
      the status quo and the authority structures that maintain it. This
      cannot be achieved through somewhat academic, elitist and
      reductionist policies. The basic choice facing the region is between
      customary religio-mythic, idolatrous or astonishingly over-religious
      rules established on pre-modern methods, on the one hand, and
      enlightening development regimes substantiated by controlled
      experiences, on the other hand.

      The relative bottom position of most African countries in the techno-
      scientific global order is beyond dispute and current STI strategies
      may leave half the region as deprived as ever, blown by the fierce
      winds of technologization and globalization, locked into scientific
      and technical dependency and unable to meet key MDGs. In these
      circumstances, a strategy of Subversive Rationalization may be
      helpful for putting in place new foundational power-knowledge
      frameworks and configurations, and for improving the African

      The African problematic of low exploitation of science and technology
      is well known in details and is often understood as the main reason
      behind the region's poor socio-economic performance. In this low
      techno-scientific environment, attempts to give substance to the idea
      of an African Renaissance and comparable initiatives, such as
      Nyerre's Ujamaa, Mobutu's Authenticité, Sengor's Négritude, Nkruma's
      Conciencism, Kenyata's Harambee, Wade's Omega, Bouteflika's Ennahda
      Movement, Mbeki's `Call to Rebellion' (1998) - let alone the vision
      of the Commission for Africa and other similar initiatives - have
      mostly been successful at developing, justifying and communicating
      specific ideas of modernization. But they also all have been
      failures because they have not only under-estimated the colossal
      effort required for achieving the necessary makeovers but they also
      ignored the most important changes to bring about: the painful
      modernization of the mythological landscape, including pre-modern
      Abrahamic, Shamanic and Animist mythologies. That means a shift
      toward scientific ways of observing, questioning, analyzing and
      knowing or toward science as the latest myth or the new religion of
      the time that can propel the continent into some kind of modernity.

      Rationalization refers to a maturation process guided by the
      scientific method and by instrumental reason, more than by fairy tale
      legacies, superstitions, revealed or divine knowledge, as
      historically envisioned by prominent Enlightenment philosophers and
      scientists of the 16th and 17th centuries. This rationalization
      enables better control and more accurate calculation of means to
      achieve precise ends, resulting in superior technological or
      technical effectiveness and flexibility, and in greater industrial
      advance. Modernizing nations are more ideologically open or keener
      to mathematize and channel the forces of nature for their own
      benefit. And they are more oriented toward the corrosion of doubt -
      believing in things that can be empirically supported -- and toward
      improving lives in this world (rather than in the after-life). In
      these mindsets, there are no place for Jonas-in-the-whale type of
      spellbound stories, amazing archangels, absurd limbos, far-fetched
      miracles, occult forces and providential intrusions. Reality is what
      is perceived through technological means. This results in developing
      societies being progressively subverted into essentially
      more `advanced', enlightened or disenchanted ones.

      Subversion refers to a process of overthrowing or overturning systems
      of principles and convictions as well as forms of dominance, control
      and power that are incompatible with or are not sustained by
      instrumental rationality and renovation processes. These processes
      result in the uprooting of totalizing, oppressive or terror
      structures that obstruct the way to modern manners of grasping
      reality - from terrorizing gods and demons, authoritative
      governments, phallocratic ecclesiasts, polygamous masters, mystifying
      medicine men to cloistered women, domestic slaves, mutilated girls
      and abducted brides. A strategy of Subversive Rationalization,
      therefore, means clearing the way toward more pragmatic, empirical
      and mechanical worldviews and at critically challenging pre-modern
      systems from un-enabling governance structures, including commanding
      husbands, as well as from constraining cosmological and ideological
      formations, whether home-grown or alien.

      The strategy of Subversive Rationalization intends to probe the
      knowledge-power–technology gaps with modern / scientific modes of
      perceiving. Filling this gap necessitates not only acquiring new
      types of information, such as scientific, technical and business, but
      also abandoning some habitual or pre-scientific types of knowledge
      that stands in the way to progress and modernity. As much endeavour
      may be required to unlearn or deconstruct a pre-modern reality
      acquired through acculturation and socialization, than to learn new
      scientific and technical knowledge and a new version of reality.

      Scientific proficiency is by far the trickiest to achieve since it
      often comes in conflict with long-established traditional knowledge
      edifices, which may not be seriously altered without social and
      political struggles. Undeniably, pre-modern spiritual constructions,
      including those originating from the Middle-East and ancient Arabia,
      tend to mesmerize, domesticate or subjugate African societies,
      leaving little room for true scientific ways of viewing, judging,
      behaving, existing and living. These scientific ways must gain
      ground over non-scientific ways.

      In a strategy of Subversive Rationalization, medieval faith-based
      representations, infrastructures and institutions, such as the
      institution of Heaven / Hell – amongst the most powerful
      establishment regulating the lives of Africans – are superseded or
      supplanted by new thinking, unleashing the power of efficient
      systems, such as successful innovation systems. Indeed, Evangelical
      and Qur'anic models, although of relatively recent human
      construction, may lack decisive values for accessing modernity, such
      as democratic governance; the complete utilization of feminine
      talents and aptitudes; affection and care for nature; a concern for
      the future; superiority of scientific methods and hypotheses
      over `gaseous' or prophetic knowledge; a strong focus on life before
      death and a less fatalistic attitude toward the lifeworld and
      poverty – all indispensable preconditions for uncovering modernity.
      In many circumstances mytho-religious texts and documents - promoted
      by a pervasive and expanding physical and human infrastructure (not
      exactly a hotspring of fresh worldviews) - may constitute a virtual
      owner's manual for one's life. This is especially so for Africans-of-
      one-book, which under certain conditions may not be conducive to
      paradigmatic innovation. Only techno-scientific knowledge can sustain
      the deep transformations to modernity.

      Subversive Rationalization requires pushing back fabulous or pre-
      scientific beliefs formations in order to clear a space or a pathway
      for more scientific views and practices. The central tussle is being
      played between various categories of knowledge - from scientifically
      founded to unfounded. This could be the crucible where a meaningful
      African modernity could emerge, through a redefinition of cultural,
      social, economic, ideological, mythological and political
      relationships with science and technology.

      Technology is more than a tool or an instrument at our disposal. It
      is also an organizing activity in which humans themselves are
      organized. The more technologies evolve and become ubiquitous the
      more humans are themselves transformed into resources, raw material,
      system components, toys, cogs and devices (if not sex organs) and
      optimized for the sake of system efficiency – the essence of
      technology. The outcome is easier and more secure and prosperous ways
      of life, but dominated and regulated by the rigorous disciplinary
      order of technical systems. In this framework, the African youth
      struggles to become `efficient' resource in the global job market,
      while technology mainly reveals Africa as collection of folkloric
      curiosities, and an immense fuel station coveted for powering the
      global technological engine.

      A techno-scientific renewal through a strategy of Subversive
      Rationalization could be helpful in promoting Pan-African integration
      and in responding to the special needs of the region. It could be
      supportive in revitalizing, refreshing, unifying and integrating
      knowledge systems in African territories. These systems are greatly
      fractured, compartmented, `medievalized' and largely unscientifically
      founded (Muslim / Christian division and exclusive possession),
      balkanized (by six colonizing powers), fragmented (+ 1000 idioms and
      worldviews), and mythologized (with indigenous and foreign
      superstitions). Knowledge is also sometimes monopolized (non-sharing
      knowledge practices and ethos), atomized (not part of advanced
      international knowledge networks), decontextualized (uprooted,
      transplanted from the technologically-advanced areas), unused or
      underused (scientists as taxi drivers), misappropriated (by power
      hungry sources), under or mis-professionalized (shamanic knowledge),
      misapplied (ecocidal), misinterpreted or ignored (disregarding
      scientific revolutions). African knowledge is also somewhat being
      eroded (extinct or dying knowledge), canned (ready-made shipped in a
      pre-packaged fashion), drained (brains seeking greener pasture),
      rarely rented (against royalty payments) and always plagued with
      Western and phallo-centricity. A strategy of Subversive
      Rationalization would provide an enhanced ordering of knowledge and

      Current science, technology, innovation and knowledge policy
      approaches remain hopelessly naïve and basically adjunct to the
      actual working of knowledge economies. They do not address the issues
      specifically related to a region a bit `stained' with pre-modern
      habits of mind, languages and views of the universe and life. They do
      not put enough emphasis on the structural-constitutional issues that
      have stabilized many African spaces into pre-modern technological
      ways of life (with some growing islands of imitative modernization).
      These spaces can graduate into some sort of modernity through a more
      intensive, rational, unfettered and popular use of avant-garde
      science, technology and knowledge and with the requisite mental or
      intellectual costumes of modern times.

      Free-thinkers, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders could be
      influential in contextualizing and supporting a strategy of
      Subversive Rationalization in the African region. In line and in full
      support of NEPAD, they could commit themselves to building
      competences for acquiring and incorporating vital techno-scientific
      knowledge in strategic areas and to encouraging and utilizing science
      as a way of thinking, which fortunately or unfortunately, is highly
      injurious and detrimental to time-honoured traditional or pre-modern
      myths, prejudices, doctrines, tenets, precepts, credos, faiths or

      A strategy of Subversive Rationalization could entrust opinion makers
      and the scientific and entrepreneurial communities to sound courses
      of action such as strengthening capacities for converting or
      revamping existing traditional knowledge systems, including faith-
      based systems, and for restructuring or recreating reality. These
      could include Africanizing, decolonizing, indigenizing, liberating,
      re-cosmologizing, re-mythologizing, re-charlatanizing, re-
      prophetizing, re-sacralizing and re-deifying processes for a
      different African adventure, driven by thriving methodical ways of
      thinking and scientific practices.
      In summary the strategy of Subversive Rationalization uses the power
      of scientific thought to launch a counter hegemonic offensive for
      subverting disabling traditional and repressive knowledge-power
      orders that stand in the way to a new realism, or to the rejuvenation
      and reconstruction of reality. The strategy may be valuable for
      bringing about a post-totemic, post-enchanted, post-Abrahamic, post-
      phallocratic, post-colonial and post-fragmented regional space and in
      moving Africa forward into a distinctive, creative, secular and
      authentic form of modernity.

      Details regarding the strategy can be found in a draft website -
      http://jachamel.googlepages.com - (600 pages).
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