Superstition, Dogma or Belief? Shades of Grey in Pursuit of “The Struggle”

2013-08-20 07:18

We recently considered how political figures manipulate language and vocabulary in order to build belief systems, secure influence and promote self interest. That after all is what Hitler did to justify German conquests precipitating the Second World War; he argued that his country had been stabbed in the back at Versailles and needed greater “liebensraum” (space for living). Through similar machinations, Stalin defined the bourgeoisie, political dissenters, gypsies and Jews in post Tsarist Russia as “the enemy of the people” and went on to kill millions whilst Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge discredited intellect of any kind, emptied the cities and decimated the population of Cambodia on the pretext of failing to conform to their newly articulated norms.

Through verbal subterfuge, they all built value systems that attracted or coerced followers. Through manipulation of the facts, populist appeal, the exercise of group pressure and by engendering fear, they encouraged action in pursuit of their chosen causes or objectives. They were very often - as we now know with the gift of hindsight - evil men.

Of course not all attitudinal initiatives are necessarily evil and the world’s major religions tend to populate the more benign end of this irrationality spectrum. The point to note though is that they are essentially based on presumptions – not facts – that assume a life of their own notwithstanding a general lack of substance. Self appointed messiahs such as David Koresh and Jim Jones – both noted for cult suicides and the abuse of individuals in their quests for personal influence - are extreme examples of both the predatory allure of the irrational and the gullibility of many.

Fast forward to modern South Africa, where much of the nation’s public discourse is mired in vocabulary and ideologies embedded in 19th and 20th century statism. So although underprivileged South Africans were promised an “upliftment of the masses”, many have received little more than a rare say at the ballot box, some sporadic benefits that the state has seen fit to provide following the demise of apartheid and ever fewer opportunities to find honest work; “upliftment of the masses” has not happened.

This disappointing performance is best explained by the lack of incentives for the ruling elite to cultivate an ethos of individual independence, economic mobility and good education – otherwise definable as human capital. One is entitled to ask - why would a ruling party do this?

It is a lust for sustained power and influence.

Genuine upliftment would undermine the underlying ruling dogma by releasing people from the emotional shackles of “the Struggle” – essentially a state sponsored religion – and deprive the party of its assumed central role. Given that the philosophy of the ANC led tripartite alliance is based on a powerful state, marriage to a militant and coercive labour movement (in order to retain the support of the proletariat) and the continued embrace of the S. A. Communist Party, an intellectually empowered and independently minded populace would amount to a dreadful nuisance.

And whilst limiting national economic performance may not be an overt objective, it serves the political elite well because much of the mainstream citizenry remains bonded and beholden to government through patronage, grants and subsidies for as long as enough taxpayers continue to feed the state dinosaur. Public education is closely analogous - for what plausible explanation can there be for the gulf between a sky-high per-capita education budget and such appalling outcomes? Yet again, there is scant appetite for an improvement in education that could unseat a party limited in cognitive capacity and dogmatic in conviction.

The facts tells it all. A contrived shortage of good teachers (starting with the retrenchment of much of the experienced teaching corps years ago), now helped on by Sadtu - a shareholder in government through Cosatu - has actively limited intellectual development by shielding incompetent teachers from dismissal and dumbing down national education.

Plainly human capital – i.e. a well educated and ambitious population high in cognitive ability – is not a national objective.

So when next you hear some ambitious politician invoking The Struggle - or other mantras like “Social Justice”, “transformation” or “equal education” and he is making no sense to you, bear in mind that you are hearing little more than a creed, dogma or religion to nonplus rational people and undermine the human capacity to take thought. Sadly, much of the population buys into them because they want to believe in a better life without being given the chance to understand what could make it so.

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