Category Archives: History

Jung, the cult of purity, post-apartheid South Africa and the Antichrist

First published by politcsweb (under the heading: ‘Banished from the Garden of Woke’)


When they said Repent, Repent I wonder what they meant

Leonard Cohen | The future

There’s a whole lot happening here in South Africa and the world that I was finding baffling and personally threatening, until I reread a pocket-sized volume of Carl Gustav Jung’s Answer to Job given to me years back by Jungian analyst, Paul Ashton. In this essay I’ll try to share what multiple readings of this numinous companion have revealed to me, in the hope that it’ll also shed light for you.

But note before we proceed. There are two versions of our story: scientific and numinous. This is the numinous ‘the Word’-version of John 1:1 capturing what is expressed though sacred texts, art and symbols and which, for Jung, is as real and objective as the official, scientific ‘A fireball of radiation at extremely high temperature and density’-version referenced in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).

Enantiodromia

Jung believed that if:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1)

Then God or Yahweh didn’t exist other than as a word or an idea, was timeless, yet ‘everything in its totality; therefore, among other things […] total justice, and also its total opposite’ (Jung 1958:15). So if the totality is void yet everything, timeless yet present, total justice, and also its total opposite, then we’re talking paradox, as in an antinomy (ibid. 10).

In order to exist, Yahweh needed somebody outside void to observe him (ibid. 16) which he set out to organise via the Big Bang in an act of enantiodromia which brought the universe into being.

When one state has a tendency to morph into its opposite, that is enantiodromia. Picture the alternate points or microdots at the heart of the taijitu, the Tao symbol representing yin and yang, coming into being or dissolving and in so doing affecting the whole (Ashton 2007) which, in the case of the Big Bang saw feminine void as yin morphing into masculine yang in the form of the cosmos which found form in the person of Adam ‘fashioned in (God’s) image as the Anthropos, the original man’ (Jung: 1958:17-18) on a tiny Goldilocks planet, on the outer reaches of the Milky Way.

As the Anthropos (ancient Greek for ‘human being’ (OED)) was fashioned in God’s image that means Adam, Eve, you and I is each a mini universe containing everything. And as the Anthropos was created in order for Yahweh to exist, that means you and I must become conscious that we contain everything as a unity of opposites (complexio oppositorium): masculine-feminine, shadow-light, total justice-total opposite and that therefore we too are an antinomy or paradox which we are tasked to resolve unravel moment-to-moment, day-to-day.

To see God, Adam first needed to become conscious of God. However, back then Adam was little more than animal awareness. He therefore needed to be woken up, goaded, tempted which fortunately this newly-created universe ‘with the division of the world as distinct processes in space and time (when) events begin to rub up and jostle one another ‘ (Ibid. 50) provided, causing discomfort and the opportunity for chance or hazard to intervene initially, in the Garden in the form of the serpent or Satan who tricked Adam (and Eve) out of the animal zone into primitive human awareness of vulnerability as in nakedness, and the beginning knowledge of good and evil (ibid. 51).

According to Jung the next major inflection point happened in the time of Proverbs when thought was being influenced cross-culturally by ancient Greece where the concept, wisdom, in the form of Sophia, and by Hinduism in the form of Shakti, the universal mother (Ibid. 39), found expression in Job who, through suffering meted out by Yahweh and Satan, divined more than Yahweh’s primitive, fierce, vengeful, brute aspect by seeing and understanding that God was also just and wise.

To be seen as a God of Justice and Wisdom was a novel idea and triggered in Yahweh flashbacks of his feminine aspect present in his ‘pleromatic coexistence with Sophia since the days of the Creation’ (Ibid. 52) (we are reminder of that alternate point or microdot representing enantiodromia at the heart of the taijitu).

Job’s insight into God’s inner antinomy attained a divine numinosity (Ibid. 23) as it deepened God’s understanding of his own nature which he was then determined to reveal to its full extent through the incarnation of Christ.

Important to understand that Job’s insight is ‘no more than the outward occasion for an inward process of dialectic in God’ (Ibid. 25). Further, that Job’s insight is as a direct consequence of ‘rubbing and jostling’ in the form of suffering which drew forth aspects or insights lying dormant in Job’s unconscious waiting to be discovered, seen, connected and brought to consciousness.

The unconscious mind of man sees correctly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent. The drama has been consummated for all eternity: Yahweh’s dual nature has been revealed, and somebody or something has seen and registered this fact (ibid 37)

From which Jung drew the principle that:

By engendering insoluble conflicts and consequently an afflictio animae, […] brings man closer to knowledge of God (ibid. 89)

Sacrificium intellectus (dumbing down)

Wouldn’t it be grand to live in a world ruled by the self-same justice seen in Yahweh by Job, and the love and forgiveness personified by Christ? This seems to have been what Yahweh had in mind when, determined not to repeat his mistake in the Garden, this time round, took special precautions to safeguard his incarnation in the form of Christ from the wiles of Satan by arranging a celestial marriage or union through Immaculate Conception followed by a virgin birth thus resulting in Christ being more divinity than human.

But, Jung asked, what happened to Yahweh’s dark side that once ganged up with Satan to torment Job? Where is Satan who once tricked Adam? By factoring out disturbance caused by ‘rubbing’ and ‘jostling’, hadn’t God unwittingly created a context in which there was no further need for ‘insoluble conflicts’ and therefore a general dumbing down? Jung believed so, and this is how it happened:

A sense of Christ’s divinity via the working of the Holy Ghost quickly started rubbing off on Christ’s followers who felt increasingly inoculated not necessarily from sin but from the fear of the consequences of sin and therefore the fear of God. It also engendered naïveté which – playing out in a world of ever-increasing complexity and associated danger – shielded his followers from needing to look too intently at Yahweh’s terrifying and vengeful aspect (ibid. 84-5). With heads and hearts full of Jesus, followers quickly lost touch with their instinctive natures which would at least, Jung believed, have provided access to the hidden wisdom of God (ibid. 87) and, instead, bestowed upon them a sense of independence and free will but, alas, without a balancing self-awareness.

But, Jung reasoned, surely innocence, naïveté and diminished self-awareness weren’t what God had in mind, because why else would Christ have warned humankind not to be ‘(led) into temptation/but (delivered) from evil’? Why would Christ teach us to ‘(make) usurious use of our talents’ (ibid. 88), to remain ‘alert, critical and self-aware […] (to sharpen) our understanding, our love of truth, and the urge to know’ (ibid. 89) unless ‘superhuman intelligence (were required) to avoid the cunning snares of Satan’ (ibid. 89)?

Hence Jung’s premonition that Christianity, as it played itself out, had laid the foundation for ‘enantiodromia in the grand scale’ (ibid. 116), because at the very hour of our planet’s greatest need, right after humankind was handed the keys to the kingdom in the form of the atom bomb and germ warfare (ibid. 164) – to which we can now add genetic engineering, cloning, AI, surveillance capitalism, wokeness – humankind has opted to retreat into sacrificium intellectus (ibid. 88) resulting in the dimming of consciousness by avoiding at all costs thinking about anything beyond what is permitted in order to seek the comfort of others doing exactly the same.

The cult of purity and the Antichrist

As the engine room of enantiodromia, complexio oppositorium (unity of opposites) rules the entire system from the macro to micro, thus also manifesting in individual human consciousness where ‘the more consciousness insists on its light nature and lays claim to moral authority, the more the self will appear as something dark and menacing’ (ibid. 133). Complexio oppositorium explains therefore why any conscious decision I make, for instance, not to be racist immediately evokes its opposite in my unconscious, causing discomfort which is then projected outwards as criticism, spite or hate. Sound familiar?

Jung believed that complexio oppositorium also fired the Revelation to John comprising visions of Armageddon, the reign of the Antichrist and the final judgement foretold in the last book of the New Testament Bible – that is, if its author were John the apostle. Jung’s reasoning was that John the apostle’s conscious commitment to leading a virtuous Christian life of absolute purity in order to serve as a role model for his Christian flock set in motion a violent compensatory reaction that blew the sump of John’s personal unconscious connecting him to the collective unconscious where:

The eye of John penetrates into the distant future of the Christian aeon and into the dark abyss of those forces which his Christianity kept in equilibrium (ibid. 135)

Similarly Hitler tapped into the suppressed collective Teutonic rage of the German people unjustly singled out for causing the First World War, and made to pay reparations during the hardship of the Depression, which Hitler channelled into blaming das Yuden. In Rwanda Tutsis became Hutu shadow.

But, Jung noted, John interprets his visions not as the reconciliation of God’s antinomy but as light versus darkness:

What burst upon him is the storm of the times, the premonition of a tremendous enantiodromia which he could only understand as the final annihilation of that darkness which had not comprehended the light that appeared in Christ (ibid. 135)

of which the ‘pièce de résistance (as it spans the entire chapter 18 of Revelation) at the hand of the seven angels with their seven vials of God’s wrath poured upon the earth (Revelation 15-17) is the destruction of the Great Whore of Babylon, the counterpart to the heavenly Jerusalem’ (ibid. 138), which develops into a veritable ‘fantasy of fornication’ (ibid.) simultaneously bringing to an end music, crafts, candle light and marriage (Revelation 18:22-23).

The good guys in this Apocalyptic horror are ‘the hundred and forty-four thousand elect and redeemed […] the parthenoi, the male virgins “which were not defiled with women”’ (ibid. 136) and which Jung links to the eunuchs referenced in Matthew 19:12 who castrated themselves “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (ibid. 136-7).

The elect ‘whose destiny it is to be saved […] save themselves by identifying with the bright pneumatic (i.e. divine) side of God. An indispensable condition for this seems to be the denial of propagation and sexual life altogether’ (ibid 142) and ‘voluntarily (renouncing) their share in the human lot (by saying) no to the continuance of life on earth’ (ibid. 136), which (Jung observed) also means ‘the destruction of all beauty and all life’s joys’ (ibid. 139) that, irony of ironies, the pure and virtuous Christian John feels should be cause for rejoicing (see Revelation 18:20).

What John gets right, however, Jung believed, is his visions recognise that God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7):

it is the spirit of God itself, which blows through the weak mortal frame (of the aged John) and again demands man’s fear of the unfathomable Godhead (ibid. 135)

and that there’ll be consequences once those forces in the dark abys kept in equilibrium by Christianity are let loose.

What John doesn’t realise is that the destruction wrought is God’s dark aspect God thought he had shed when he incarnated as the Christ, and which, as God’s prototype (Genesis 1:27), John was tasked to re-identify in himself and integrate:

He (i.e. John) failed to see that the power of destruction and vengeance is that very darkness from which God split himself off when he became man (ibid. 135)

For me, uncanny is how Jung’s description and critique of John’s Revelation speak to what is sweeping the liberal Western world under the broad mantle of woke, with its more ominous iteration in South Africa. But before I discuss the parallels, a synopsis of how I understand woke as it’s playing itself out.

Woke is Marxism in practice, as in praxis. The method is textual in the broadest sense of the word to include a tweet and conversation captured electronically, for example, on video, with the express purpose of seeking, identifying, and demonstrating taken-for-granted assumptions around power. Initially Marxist critical theory saw material reality in terms of economics, where ‘the struggle’ was between those who owned the means of production and therefore held all the power, i.e. the bourgeoisie (= bad or evil) and those who didn’t, i.e. the workers (= good or pure).

Marxist praxis proved a highly effective tool as it undermined power structures, simply by switching epistemological lenses.

Marxist praxis is now being employed to analyse society in terms of a victim-perpetrator axis with the former comprising black, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or questioning (OED)) and the latter: structures promoting, supporting or condoning patriarchy, toxic masculinity, cisgender, privilege and capitalism.

Praxis has become personal and deadly in that it constitutes a close reading of behaviour and therefore once it has you in its sights and runs an audit it’ll most likely find a word, gesture or attitude, no matter how insignificant or decontextualized, that will reveal you to be racist, privileged or toxic which is then the kiss of death as it’s announced to the world via social media thereby being indelibly printed in the ether for all eternity. No wonder the establishment is running scared. It’s also the reason that, increasingly, conversations around the braai are conducted with extreme caution. (Some would say this is a good thing.) You can see the above illustrated in a letter signed by writers, journalists, columnists and academics calling for civility and the free exchange of information and ideas, to be published in the October 2020 issue of Harper’s Magazine (Ackerman 2020), and the response from their woke counterpart (Binkowski 2020).

As a broad tool for self-discovery or personal growth, critical theory is very useful, and can be employed in analysis or psychotherapy to uncover or reveal unconscious motives. However, when its purpose is political in order to unmask thereby appropriate power, it’s having devastating consequences. For instance, if we accept that colonialism was part of the Christian aeon, then Jung’s prognosis ‘The eye of John penetrates into the distant future of the Christian aeon and into the dark abyss of those forces which Christianity kept in equilibrium’ (Ibid. 135) takes on an immediacy we’re now living, as colonial assumptions and structures come under the spotlight and are systematically dismantled.

Related aspects of Jung’s analysis of John’s Revelation that presciently speak to current events include the Manichaean assumption that humankind is engaged in a war between the forces of light and darkness, as in: heavenly Jerusalem versus Babylon; the pure, the woke, the elect versus the rest; sacrificium intellectus, as in two-dimensionality at the expense of antinomy; atavistic yearning for a return to the Garden (Eden) or even the womb; failing to realise that the shadow, darkness and toxicity isn’t out there, it’s also inside every single SJW (social justice warrior).

In South Africa the ‘forces’ in the ‘dark abyss’ which colonialism kept in equilibrium have surfaced as battalions of ‘victims’ and their guilt-ridden tagalongs who have captured the high ground where, divorced from complexity, they are now able to project their collective shadow on all the enemies of ‘transformation’: minorities (slurs, accusations, threats and killings), academia (decolonised curricula, decapitated statues, torched art, apostate academics flushed out of hiding, research and knowledge sanitised), the media (language and narratives determined, cancelling, sacking, defunding), the economy (BEE, etc. 25 years on), and politics (curfews, rule by edict), all of which – for a people largely inured by plenitude, and that has suppressed into the collective unconscious, inter alia, the enantiodromia triggered by King Shaka, of the Mfecane (1815 and about 1840) in which millions died (Mfecane 2020) – I believe serve as harbingers of the reign of the Antichrist which, in its current iteration, unless a correction sets in, promises to translate into the crushing of the human spirit, lockstep conformity, dull bottomless eyes, emaciated chained dogs, plastic, silence, fear.

For as important as it is for the beneficiaries of apartheid to look deep inside their colonial hearts and grapple with the darkness they uncover, so too it is incumbent on every accuser to do the same, for:

to the degree that you condemn others and find evil in others, you are to that degree unconscious of the same thing in yourself […] there can be Eichmann’s and Hitlers and Himmlers just because there are people who are unconscious of their own dark sides and they project that darkness outwards, say, Jews or Communists or whatever the enemy, and say there is the darkness, it’s not in me, and I am justified in annihilating this enemy. (Watts 2014|04:59)

Afflictio animae (affliction of the soul)

I see a battlefield with countless casualties. For instance who could forget Helen Zille, haggard, hauled before the tribunal to recant her statement that the consequences of colonialism were not entirely negative. And I recall bitterly how former fellow journalists and columnists, and many from our current crop, played an enthusiastic role in fanning the flames of hatred while surely knowing in their heart of hearts the integrity of the person they set out to humiliate.

More recently, many if not all of the same journalists led or joined the public stoning of Bullard for his, to my mind (and I’m sure his as well), stupid and suicidal yet paradoxically illuminating tweet centred around the use of the k-word geared, as he himself intended at the time, to being as provocative as possible in order to trigger exactly the response he got.

But how come otherwise intelligent human beings lose all sense of discrimination or discernment (as my friend Peter Raggett observed in conversation concerning another matter) when it comes to questions of race, colour and colonialism?

How come the following three sentences in James Myburgh’s reply to Cecelia Kok (at the helm of the South African chapter of Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation, major funders of PoliticsWeb at the time, and the Institute of Race Relation (IRR)) were not enough to prick Ms Kok’s conscience and melt her heart:

A basic test of human decency and loyalty is whether you stand by a person when they are at their most vulnerable. And people are at their most vulnerable when they have made a mistake, especially an egregious one. I don’t know if it is a liberal™ position or not, but I don’t think one should kick someone when they are down (Myburgh 2020:06)

How come Myburgh’s third sentence:

I don’t know if it is a liberal™ position or not, but I don’t think one should kick someone when they are down (ibid.)

was omitted in a column by fellow journalist, Max du Preez, otherwise replete with quotations from Myburgh’s reply to Kok, and in which Du Preez concluded: ‘Ag nee wat, James, hierna kan niemand jou meer ernstig opneem nie’ (No, James, after this no one can again take you seriously) (Du Preez 2020)?

How come Bullard’s former colleague at the IRR, Ivo Vegter, spearheaded Bullard’s axing (Vegter 2020) when only months previously the self-same Vegter was complaining bitterly that he was being ‘deplatforned’ by the greenies?

How come does a ‘senseless act of kindness’ (Grossman 2011) seemingly count for naught?

It was clear to me that the serpent Bullard was out to trick by ‘rubbing’ and ‘jostling’ whomever into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and succeeded eminently by flushing out card-carrying members of the cult of purity. Of course like all tricksters Bullard paid the price, as did those who stood by him, by himself being banished from the perfumed innocence pervading the Garden of Woke, which brings to mind a second pleromatic Garden, this time of Experience in which each of us is tested. Marie-Louise von Franz, a long-time colleague of Jung’s, explains the goings-on in that place:

I, for instance, have seen that when Germany went to the devil in Nazism, people fell into it through their personal shadow. For instance they didn’t want to lose their job because they were clinging to money – that was a personal shadow, but then they joined in with the Nazi movement – for that reason – and did much worse things than they would have done normally, under normal social conditions, so you can say the personal shadow is the bridge to the collective shadow or the open door to the collective shadow, but the collective shadow comes up in those terrible mass psychoses (Von Franz 1979|31:58)

What I take from all of this is when an assumed harm done to an indeterminate, theoretic ‘other’ by a word or expressed thought, is disproportionate, absolutely, to the actual punishment meted to the living human ‘offender’ who has porridge to make for breakfast and must face family and friends; when one person or one sector of a society is totally good or virtuous or pure and the other its opposite, then that people or society is on the verge of an ‘enantiodromia in the grand scale’.

God is not the summum bonum (supreme good), Jung believed, but is instead, quoting the theologian Meister Eckhart, ‘alone in his Godhead […] not in a state of bliss, but must be born in the human soul’ (Jung 1958:156) where God’s antinomy that ‘tears him asunder into opposites and delivers him over to seemingly insoluble conflict’ (Ibid. 151) must be resolved.

If so, then it is also I who must keep watch in Gethsemane while beyond the garden wall the baying mob is demanding their justice, and blood. It is I required not to fudge or evade issues, or to deceive myself. It is I who must refuse to dumb down. And it is I who must own my shadow, for, according to Laurens van der Post, it is the universal shadow which Jung believed holds the greatest danger:

I remember him saying clearly (writes Van der Post of Jung) that the individual who withdraws his shadow from his neighbour and finds it in himself and is reconciled to it as to an estranged brother, is doing a task of great universal significance (Van der Post 1976:231)

The Romantic poet, William Blake (1757 – 1827) gave us two anthologies: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which included, ‘The Lamb’ contrasted with ‘The Tyger’ (McCormick Weng 2018) that illustrate God’s antinomy: gentleness and ferocity in an otherwise void, inert, cold or molten universe which comes together in you and me, and that must be resolved:

[…] Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child | ‘The Lamb’ (Songs of Innocence)

And:

[…] What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? | ‘The Tyger’(Songs of Experience}

I can only resolve God’s antinomy as it manifests in me by ‘holding the opposites’ (Ashton 2007). I can only hold the opposites once I experience them in me. I can only experience them once I open myself to and live them as they express themselves in me through my own toxicity, guilt, fears, memories, dreams, and thoughts, and in the love experienced for another being in this universe.

As a pupil bullied or doing the bullying, Juju brushing his teeth, a columnist meeting a deadline or that man on the side of the road, hoping for a job: I heal God’s antinomy by becoming conscious. This I do by accepting that my brief span of three score and ten is less about seeking comfort or happiness (although maybe that too) but ‘engendering insoluble conflicts’ thereby individuating by becoming uniquely me:

All opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his ‘oppositeness’ has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict (ibid. 89)

When this happens, I stand in humility before:

the One who dwells in (me), whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses (me) on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the earth and vast as the sky (ibid: 180)

the alternate points in the taijitu will sound the Word in perfect harmony and, I sense, just by looking around me at nature, I’ll love fiercely and rage despairingly.

Disclosure

It is possible that my use of ‘cult’ in the title was unconsciously lifted from the first of two posts by Berger, M. (2020). The cancel cult (I). Politicsweb. Available at: click here [accessed 12 July 2020], which is highly recommended together with its sequel, Further explorations of the cancel cult (II). Politicsweb. Available at: click here [accessed 12 July 2020].

I was unable to establish the primary source of the feature image. One possibility is The Tao of Psychology paper by Jean Shinoda Bolen, featured in the CG Jung Institute of Chicago website accessible here.

Bibliography

Ackerman, E. et al (2020). A letter on justice and open debate. Harper’s. Available at: click here [accessed 28 July 2020].

Ashton, P.W. (2007). From the brink; experiences of the void from a depth psychology perspective. London: Karnac Books.

Binkowski, B. et al (2020). A more specific letter on justice and open debate. The Objective. Available at: click here [accessed 28 July 2020].

Du Preez, M. (2020). Juju se vuil bek, en ’n Engelse weergawe van Dan Roodt. Vrye Weekblad. Available at: click here [accessed 12 July 2020].
Grossman, V. (2011:72). Life and Fate. London: Vintage.

Jung, C.G. (1958). Answer to Job. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Leonard Cohen – El futuro Bunkermuz. Available at: click here [acceded 22 July 2020].

Marie-Louise von Franz, Remembering Jung III. (1979:31:58). [film]. Loss Angeles: Busustow Video Production. Available at: click here [accessed 22 July 2020].

McCormick Weng, J. et al (2018). William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ and ‘The Lamb’. British Literature. Available at: click here [accessed 20 July 2020].

Mfecane. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: click here [accessed 28 July 2020].

Myburgh, J (2020). No, I will not sack David Bullard as a columnist. Politicsweb. Available at: click here [accessed 12 July 2020].

Taijitu. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: click here [accessed 22 July 2020].

Van der Post, L. (1976). Jung and the story of our time. London: Vintage.

Vegter, I. (2020). Reflecting on Bullard’s dismissal from the Daily Friend. Daily Friend. Available at: click here [accessed 18 July 2020].

Watts, A. (2014:04:59). Alan Watts on Carl Jung. . MindPod Network. Available at: click here [accessed 8 July 2020].

South Africa and the question of truth

Hendrik Mentz says our current debate is riddled with category errors

First published by politcsweb

‘There is only one truth. It’s a bitter truth, but it’s a truth that can save us’ (Vasily Grossman)

For Maxim Gorky, there were two truths, and he advised Vasily Grossman to write the new truth of the (Communist) Revolution into his first novel, Glϋckauf, if he wished it to be published [1]:

We know there are two truths and that, in our world, it is the vile and dirty truth of the past that quantitatively preponderates […] it is a disgusting and tormenting truth. It is truth we must struggle against and mercilessly extirpate. [2]

Grossman wrestled with Gorky’s dualistic epistemology until he concluded – as Plato had centuries before – there can only be one truth:

‘No, Marusya […] You’re wrong. I can tell you as a surgeon that there is one truth, not two. When I cut someone’s leg off, I don’t know two truths. If we start playing at two truths, we’re in trouble. And in war too – above all. When things are as bad as they are today – there is only one truth. It’s a bitter truth, but it’s a truth that can save us. If the Germans enter Stalingrad, you’ll learn that if you chase after two truths, you won’t catch either. It’ll be the end of you.’ [3]

South Africa, and the question of truth

The challenge of what constitutes truth also faces South Africans today.

During the time of the first democratic elections in the country which ended apartheid (1994), our truth was the rainbow nation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela. Now, however, a quarter of a century on, the belief in our oneness has been shattered. Instead, Gorky’s sense of ‘a vile and dirty’ past with its ‘disgusting and tormenting truth’ is what now prevails with accusations of ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘you stole the land’ – and which must now be ‘mercilessly extirpated’ by a new truth that will liberate ‘the people’ from the shackles of a white colonial past.

The sense of there being two truths was confirmed in 2018 by no one less than our State President, Cyril Ramaphosa, during his first Sona (state of the nation address) when he stated that the original sin inflicted on South Africa were the white settlers (VIDEO of Ramaphosa’s accusation: click here), and that to correct the injustices flowing from this original sin the South African Constitution was to be adapted to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The President isn’t alone. There are currently multiple processes ‘mercilessly extirpating’ the past. University curricula are being ‘decolonised’. White people – framed as the sole beneficiaries of colonialism – must now own their guilt, confess the privileges flowing exclusively their way from their theft, and find ways of making amends by reaching out to those whom, over generations, they oppressed. Any white person questioning this new truth is by definition racist, accused of resisting reconciliation, and is punished through labelling (witness: Helen Zille), banning (Steve Hofmeyr) or discrediting (Afriforum), alternatively they can leave the country.

An idea, once it takes hold, wields enormous power, and so it is imperative for it to be true. For instance consider the consequences of the following ideas: the divine right of kings, liberté, equalité, fraternité, Rule Britannia, apartheid, the American Dream. By ‘true’, I mean that the idea in question should at least make sense – which the new South African truth being propagated doesn’t, because it contains numerous category errors.

Category errors

You’ve made a category error when the quality you ascribe to something (i.e. the category in which you place it) is wrong. In other words what you say or believe it to be, isn’t true.

To illustrate a category error Gilbert Ryle tells the story of a traveller being shown around a campus and who noted the library and the faculty buildings but then complained he couldn’t find the university. The traveller’s error was to assume that a ‘university’ was also a tangible object or category comprising bricks and mortar whereas it fell into a different category altogether: conceptual.

Ryle coined the term ‘category error’ in order to show that René Descartes – of cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) fame – was wrong to believe that each of us comprised a separate mind in a body because if it were so, Ryle argued, how could something inanimate (mind) bend something material (body) to its bidding – like a ghost in the machine (which is in some ways similar to the belief that when we die our soul rises to heaven while the body remains behind). Ryle contended that there are truer ways of describing human consciousness that don’t commit a category error, for instance, understanding that being human expresses itself through thinking, feeling, toiling and then dying (please note: my reformulation).

I turn to South Africa.

Claims that white people stole the land are false

The accusations of new-truthers that white South Africans stole the land from our people comprise a series of category errors, and are therefore not true.

‘Our people’ is a category error because it privileges black Nguni/Bantu as victims whereas in fact the original Nguni people were in the same category as white Europeans and light yellow to olive Khoikhoi invaders who, in successive waves, occupied space originally exclusively inhabited by yellow-brown-skinned Bushman (San) hunter-gatherers [4].

The ‘land’ itself is also a category error because the original Bushman wouldn’t even have noticed the land. Instead, was endless space with mountains and streams teaming with animals to be hunted and eaten. What is now categorized as ‘land’ would for the Bushman have been the spoor of an impala buck. What is now categorized as ‘land’ would for the Khoikhoi pastoralist have been water, and grazing until it was exhausted. The Nguni people might have had the initial sense of an area to be held, cultivated and protected but even this sense didn’t approximate the European sense in 1659 – with the first Land Plakkaaten of Jan van Riebeeck – of a geographical area, measured, pegged, and with a title deed and associated record of permanent ownership ‘to be entered in a well-bound book, so that no difficulties may arise later over possession and inheritance’ [5], let alone its modern equivalent as a mechanised, tightly managed farming operation forming an essential part of the country’s GDP.

To summarise: ‘you stole the land’ is a category error because what is now understood as stolen land never existed before European settlers arrived in southern Africa, whereas the category ‘land’ as it was then ‘conceived’ as teaming game or endless grazing now no longer exists.

The accusation that white people are the original sin is false

President Ramaphosa’s accusation that white people are the original sin is also a category error because the land purportedly stolen is indistinguishable from the geographic entity universally recognised as the Republic of South Africa of which Ramaphosa is currently President. So, if by Ramaphosa’s reckoning, white people are the original sin then Ramaphosa, as beneficiary of that sin, is equally – if not more guilty, and should, by rights, resign. He can’t have his cake and eat it.

It is impossible to ‘decolonise the curriculum’

That the curriculum can be ‘decolonised’ is also a category error because it assumes that ‘colonialism’ is something lurking, like a homunculus, inside knowledge able to be identified and extracted, instead of understanding knowledge as additive and enriching.

Accusations of racism are category errors

Murder is a clearly defined punishable crime or category distinguishable from manslaughter, acts of self-defence, and action on the battlefield, and is itself, a sub-category of killing. Racism is also now categorised as a crime but whereas I know what murder is, what racism is escapes me, because, like Descartes’ category ‘mind’, the category ‘racism’ is a nothing. Sure I can infer racism like I can infer mind but I’m just as likely to be wrong. For instance we infer from Penny Sparrow’s use of the descriptor ‘monkeys’ to describe black people littering a Durban beach on New Year’s eve that she’s a racist. But where or what exactly is this thing that we now call, label or categorise as ‘racism’, and how to measure it? Is it the word? Is it the speaker? Is it the attitude? Is it the intent? Is it the context? Is it the interpretation? Is it all these things? Is it something else? I don’t know. You help me. Helen Zille is suddenly a racist because she tweets that colonialism also brought benefits. Again, the same series of questions apply. I could go on to Steve Hofmeyr or Julius Malema but hopefully the point has been made that whereas crimes such as stock theft, fraud, trespassing have tangibility in that each has been clearly defined, meaning a perpetrator can then be identified, stand trial, and, if guilty, sentenced and convicted, the same cannot be said of racism which is by its very nature indefinable, as in: fluid, fleeting, contextual, contingent. The label ‘racist’ is therefore a category error, which, needless to say, comes in handy if your intention is to cower or confuse a populace, keep everyone on the back foot, discourage discussion, ensure adherence to a new truth.

One truth

None of the above is to deny that European, Khoikhoi and Nguni people detested, feared and together exterminated the Bushman in horrific numbers [6], thereby forcing them into remote enclaves and, finally, the Kalahari. Nor does the above excuse white people for passing various legislation aimed at driving ‘the Hottentot … from pasturage and watering-places necessary for the Company’s purposes’ [7], and dealing with the ‘native question’, thereby depriving many black farmers of their ancestral land and their livelihood. Nor does it excuse apartheid, which uprooted entire communities.

But the foregoing constitutes the one truth which found expression in the form of a negotiated treaty [8] we refer to as our Constitution, with its associated remedial legislation which has been administered over the past quarter of a century by the ruling ANC government. So why invent a new truth, unless for nefarious ends?

So if all we have is our one truth, how do we live it?

I don’t want to talk for Ramaphosa, Malema et al except to suggest more truthfulness on their part, owning and taking responsibility, and less projecting and blaming would be a fair start. You, dear reader, can speak for yourself. For me I return to Grossman, who, I believe, has the answer. The one truth finds expression in the individual in a very personal way. Further, it is clearly evident given history that truth is about suffering:

The more sorrow there is in a man, the less hope he has of survival – the better, the kinder, the more generous he becomes. [9]

And what is that sorrow? For me it was locating, entering and living my own darkness – also inherited, as transgenerational trauma, going back almost 300 years to 1749 when Joachim Frederik Mentz stepped ashore in Table Bay. Mine was a lonely, arduous, terrifying yet definitive experience which I sense, in retrospect, has made me more human than I was before. It also strengthened me at my core, brought me greater clarity, and left me, on occasions, less critical and kinder: as in you and I; not crowds. It also enabled me to detect and resist, as tyranny, those who wish to impose their truth as the truth.

Man and Fascism cannot co-exist. If Fascism conquers, man will cease to exist and there will remain only man-like creatures that have undergone an internal transformation. But if man, man who is endowed with reason and kindness, should conquer, then Fascism must perish, and those who have submitted to it will once again, become people. [10]

References:

1: Smith, A. (2019). The trials of Vasily Grossman. Harpers Magazine, July, pp. 80-85. Available at: click here [Accessed 11 July 2019].

2: Foreword by Robert Chandler to Grossman, V. (2018:5). Stalingrad. London, Random House. Available at: click here [Accessed 25 June 2019].

3: Ibid.

4: Theal, G.M. (1919). Ethnography and conditions of South Africa before A.D. 1505. London, George Allen and Unwin.

5: Spilhaus, M.W. (1949:109). The first South Africans. Cape Town, Juta.

6: Theal, G.M. ibid.

7: Spilhaus, M.W. ibid. 6

8: I am indebted to Michael Kenmuir who, in correspondence, pointed out that the Constitution is in fact a treaty.

9: Grossman, V. (2011:72). Life and Fate. London, Vintage.

10: Ibid., 78.

Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest

I reported earlier how I came away troubled from a meeting I had attended two weeks back called by the Swellendam executive mayor, Councillor Nicholas Myburgh, to address a host of community-related issues.

Flowing from that meeting was a protest action this past Sunday 7 May 2017, which ended in the symbolic burning of a banner depicting Swellendam Municipality. Continue reading Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest

What price heritage in Higgo Vale?

At the top of Higgo Road (1 Higgo Rd), just below Kloof Neck Rd is a heritage cottage similar to the one I restored and in which I am living, which is being allowed to disintegrate to the point, I assume, that the developers, who purchased the semi-detached cottages from the Dennis family, can argue for its demolition in order to replace it with a palatial structure similar to most of the other houses recently built in Higgo Vale, and that now fetch well over R10M a piece.
Note. This is a place-holder for my theme: Higgo Vale then and now which will explore heritage vs development.