History and Thought LO12954

Mnr AM de Lange (AMDELANGE@gold.up.ac.za)
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 15:38:45 GMT+2

Rol Fessenden wrote on 15 Mar in LO12905

> On the other hand, the notion that the future will hold broader options
> than the past is also correct. How we use reason has been enriched
> immensely. Reason, for example, led us away from witchburning,
> blood-letting, and other practices. In the future, we will discover still
> more -- and more effective -- options.

Dear organlearners,

Rol, you have mentioned so many interesting things which I would have
enjoyed to commute with in script. Thank you very much.

Your last paragraph has an immense bearing on the history of thought in
most of Africa.

It was the thesis of the american logician Alfonso Church that to name
things is the most basic act of logic. His thesis was a novel introduction
to logic for logicians, but it is not so novel to western thinkers other
than logicians. His thesis is firmly embedded in our western way of
thinking, including mine. It was already basic to the thinking of the
Greeks more than 2000 years ago. We TACITLY ASSUME that Church's thesis is
basic to HUMAN rationality.

I was therefor taken by great surprise when I learnt that most of the
black peoples in Africa have a rather strange culture when naming things.
A person does not, when observing something of which the name was unknown,
simply give it a name. Firstly, it is believed that by giving anything a
name, such a thing has been empowered. It is NOT believed that the
namegiver is empowered. Thus it will happen that, should the thing be an
evil thing, evil things will become empowered and given life. Secondly,
whenever a useful thing finally 'begs' for a name, it is a issue for the
whole tribe in which the chief, his advisors and the medicine people play
the major roles. The ordinary person has almost no role in giving names.

Whenever an ordinary person gives an unknown thing a name, that person
should be extremely careful not to tell anybody the name or unguardedly
use the name in discussions. Why? One of the ways in which these peoples
identify a witch or a sorcerer, is when such a person gives names to
unknown things, thus empowering such things! In other words, Church's
thesis is for them a sign of witchcraft or sorcery rather than
rationality! The penalty for this sin is death. I need not elaborate on
the pruning effect this belief had on the gene pool, culture in general
and creativity in particular. I need not tell you how these peoples view
the rational drive of the western world or how they justify genocide even
in present times.

Now try to answer the following two questions. Have you ever given a
thought of setting up a learning organisation in any society where this
belief abounds? How much do you think is possible?

In your answers, did you only think of the peoples of Africa? If you did,
then you do not realise how immense the problem is. Many thinking people
of the western world still follow the same tune, but with different words.
Although they do not believe anymore that evil things will be empowered
and now do believe that the namegiver will become empowered, they still
belief that it may be to their own disadvantage. Is this not why they
still fear to loose their control and power, why they want to be the
chief, the advisors or the medicine people? Although they do not identify
anymore people who, through their legimate deeds, have had an adversive
effect on them as witches or sorcerers, they still react adversively to
these people rather than coming to grib with their legitimate deeds. They
do not burn the witches or sorcerer, but they still excommunicate them
from their organisations. Which is worse, to burn the body or to damn the

We live in an extraodinary slice of time in the history of humankind. An
immense paradigm shift is about to happen. The fall of communism (and the
wall) is merely a precursing tremour of the Big One to happen. Anomalies
are stacking up sky high, creating tensions which will finally give way to
great cultural floods. We assume that by living in a safe part of the
world will make us resilient to great changes in the rest of the world
like, for example, the great change which has been forced upon South
Africa. But we cannot escape the fact that our humanity depends on all the
humans all over the world. To stop the hunting and burning of whitches and
sorceres is like to stop leprosy, smallpox, malaria or aids. If only one
person in the whole world is infected by it, we can all become infected.
Thus, whether we like it or not, each one of us is the keeper of our
fellow humans. Or to put it terms of a concept which I have given a name
on this list a week ago: whether we like it not, all humans commute!

Here is a rather unusual example to show you how we commute. The earth is
covered by a blanket of air which contains nitrogen molecules, oxygen
molecules, etc. The number of nitrogen molecules in this blanket can be
calculated. Each person breathes a certain volume of air in his/her life
time. The number of nitrogen molecules thus breathed can be calculated.
Now consider the first human Adam who lived 6000 years ago, whether you
believe that he lived or not. Adam also breathed air. In 6000 years
sufficient time has elapsed for that air to mix thoroughly with the
blanket of air covering the earth. The question now is, how many molecules
which have been in the lungs of Adam, are now in the lungs of anyone of
us? This is a fine question for chemistry 1 students. But it is also a
fine question to ask in our learning organisation: how many nitrogen
molecules which have commuted with Adam, are now commuting with us? The
answer? Several million of molecules!

It was not easy for me to have written this contribution. It was like
crossing a mine field. Some mines are labeled political correctness, other
are labled racism, self-interest, etc. Any one of these mines can still
blow me into pieces. (Again, pardon my English which is not my native

Best wishes
-- -

At de Lange
Gold Fields Computer Centre for Education
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, South Africa
email: amdelange@gold.up.ac.za


"Mnr AM de Lange" <AMDELANGE@gold.up.ac.za>

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