Fermented Ph.D. Dump: Colonial Logic

A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump

Dump I | Dump II | Dump III | Dump IV | Dump V | Dump VI/Africa I | Dump VII/Africa II | Dump VIII/Africa III | Dump IX/Africa IV | Dump X/Africa V

African philosopher Serequeberhan states that we are currently in what he calls the neo-colonial situation. The neo-colonial situation is basically the contemporary era marked by the invisible colonial logic that keeps on getting reproduced. Or, today colonialism is still ongoing but under different terms. The situation is different, the terms are different, but the logic remained. Few people are aware of this, but it is still present in almost every aspect of our lives. For example, in 2017, the then-premier of the Democratic Alliance party, the second biggest political party in South Africa, made a series of tweets in which she declared that colonialism was not all bad. Most of the people in South Africa felt outraged. Coming from someone like her, it just showcases how entrenched this logic is. That it is still reproduced in such a fashion is just shocking.

So in this Ph.D. dump, I want to briefly just go over what this logic is and how it still permeates especially in philosophy to this very day.

Difference Moralized

In a recently published paper, Freter (2018:240) writes how modern philosophers such as Hume and Kant found differences all over the world, as one would have guessed. But he comes to the very important insight that these philosophers then moralized that difference. They saw difference as inherently bad in the sense that they saw their own position as superior and all the other positions marked by difference as inferior. Because they could not find themselves in others, they saw it as inherently a sign of inferiority.

And thus began the justification of colonialism. Many different justifications sprang forward. The one that Helen Zille still held on to was that the west brought civilization to the world. Because the inferior other was deemed incapable of civilizing themselves, they needed western colonialism so that they could be civilized. There was no communication, there was no alliance, and there was the basic patronizing position of "Oh they need our help". But this was far from it. It relied on colonial logic with its faulty binaries to justify this help. The west basically created the inferior other by looking at itself as superior; and in this position, they felt the "moral" imperative to create copies of itself all over the world in the name of civilizing those that could not civilize themselves.

Thus the quote from Helen Zille: they could not build roads and pipe infrastructure themselves, they needed colonialism so that they could have pipes and roads.

I mean, how can someone hold such a blatantly racist notion? And the worst of it all, those who did not condemn her defended her.

Colonial Logic Today

As noted with Helen Zille as an example, this logic is still with us today. Various structural mechanisms are still in place to keep those previously deemed inferior in those positions. The most glaring example is the university system in a country like South Africa. The costs to study are way beyond the reach of the blue-collar worker. If you have money, you will be able to study and find a job outside of the system that basically keeps you a slave. Our minimum wage in South Africa is R25.42 or US $1.39 per hour. That means, to pay for an undergraduate degree, which costs about R120 000 (US $6 548.45) for three years, one would need to work 4720 hours, or 200 days. That does not cover rent, food, transport, or health services. Structurally, those who were born into poverty (previously termed inferior) will never be able to study at university. (Yes, one can apply for bursaries, but those who come from poverty-stricken areas will likely not have good grades, yet another way this structure reproduces itself. And also, there are more people in poverty than those who were previously deemed inferior. But in a country, like South Africa, poverty is usually linked to skin color.)

Another one, as briefly mentioned, is education and the curricula. Most curricula in South Africa are western-centric. Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) are either not taught at all or relegated to some field of study such as "African studies". Someone from, say, Xhosa heritage, will never really see her culture in university or the schooling system. She will mostly learn European history, and European and western science and she will most likely study in English, which is conceptually far removed from her home language. The idea that will form in her mind is that her own IKS is inferior and not valuable. She will try to assimilate with western knowledge systems. But from this, two things might happen. Her own culture might reject her because she has become western, but western culture might reject her because she is not western enough. Kumalo (2018:5) calls this the creation of the native of nowhere.

Postscriptum, or From where do we go here?

It is sad that colonial logic is still here and professed by people. How do we even get away from it? How do we bring it to the attention of others? I have no idea. I have come across so many people that held these ideas without seeing how problematic they are. It is sad and scary.

But in any case, I hope you found this insightful at least. All of the musings are my own, unless stated otherwise or hyperlinked. The images are also my own taken with my Nikon D300. Happy learning, stay safe.

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