Thesis Number: #9 (Page 4 of 10)

Mangling the Metaphors

Linguist George Lakoff and his co-author Mark Johnson have shown that “most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature” (1980: 4). Metaphors are crucial to the way that we think, and therefore to the way that we behave. We rely heavily on the coherence of our metaphors. But this also means that, if we wish to intercede in the way people behave, we may do so by altering the way that they think. This would be achieved by amending the meaning and use of relevant concepts. Words deployed by bigots illustrate the way language can mobilise emotions and direct people’s behaviour.

The feudal aristocracy created a whole lexicon designed to intimidate peasant populations into accepting the loss of their ancient right of access to common land. Noblemen were the “upper class”; others were in lower classes. This language of humiliation (and related behaviour: you doff your cap to your betters) was vital for the rent-seeking mission. Today, the values and attitudes of that class culture infuse national statistics, as with the classification of people into employment categories. Missing is the category for the “idle rich” class.

But because this mind-mangling process occurred over a period of 800 years, it is difficult (without study and reflection) to grasp its reality. The default position: denial. We are in control of our minds – right? It offends self-esteem to suggest otherwise. So we may turn to a similar process that was telescoped into a shorter period of 150 years, to examine how a whole continent was indoctrinated.

The capture of Africa was achieved by deploying a few colonial administrators and a modest number of soldiers from countries like France, Belgium and Britain. Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski surveyed the history in The Dynamics of Cultural Change (1945).

Africa was a land grab on a breath-taking scale. When Malinowski undertook his fieldwork, he noted that the impact on indigenous people was not recorded in the works of scholars of the 19th century. He wrote:

[C]onsidering that land tenure is one of the key problems, it is extraordinary how little discussion there is of it in such books as those by Junod, Smith, Dale, Rattray, Dudley Kidd, and Torday. Moreover from these early accounts of African land tenure, all change has been carefully cleaned off the picture; all traces of European influences have been expunged (1945: 117).

That was Step 1 of mind control: conceal the evidence from public gaze. But it was not sufficient. How people think about such issues also needs to be influenced. How else could dispossessed populations be coerced into compliance with the wishes of their masters? This is where the metaphors came into play. Malinowski cites two examples.

Christian missionaries preached the Gospel of Universal Brotherhood. The preaching was based on a vision that sought to assure the converted that they would live in a community of equals. The practice was the colour bar. The cognitive dissonance engendered by such tensions between words and deeds confused those whose land was being appropriated.

Gold diggers were Malinowski’s second example. Cecil Rhodes deployed the “dignity of labour” metaphor in political discourse to manipulate men in the Transkei. A tax of ten shillings was imposed on those who preferred to work on ancestral lands rather than go down European-owned mines. Rhodes told the Legislative Assembly: “You will remove them [the Natives] from that life of sloth and laziness, you will teach them the dignity of labour, and make them contribute to the prosperity of the State, and make them give some return for our wise and good government” (1945: 115-116).

Such foundation policies and language solidified a new social structure for a continent which, today, remains hostage to Europe’s statecraft of greed. Social and economic evolution is retarded by doctrines that continue to mangle the minds and the culture of indigenous peoples (Box 3).

Box 3

Geldoff goes for Gold

Singer Bob Geldoff, who campaigns against poverty in Africa, is frontman for a new private equity fund that is targeting the “massive returns” to be made out of Africa. The primary source of revenue is the continent’s resource rents. Geldoff would be horrified if he understood that his venture into High Finance will help to consolidate the economic mechanisms that impoverish Africa.

How do we release ourselves from the thought-control processes that disfigure society? In the past, social discontent was relieved by resort to violence. In no case has that violence been the prelude to the recovery of natural justice. In France, Russia and China, people were promised liberty and fraternity. Instead, they endured bloodshed and exploitation.

But neither is the solution to be found in displacing responsibility onto non-human agencies. Social change will not emerge by Empowering the Earth (Begg 2000). Nor do the exclusively biological models help. These claim that humanity is in an infantile stage and needs to grow up. Pre-literate humans developed customs and practices that enabled them to navigate their way through hazardous times and places. They established ways of living that did not bequeath deficits to future generations and did not inflict mortal damage on their habitats. These were mature people, and we do humanity a disservice to suggest that we have yet to reach maturity. The solution to the social perversions of the past is closer to home, under the Englishman’s castle.

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