Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

What ‘wisdom’?

Can humanity today show itself capable of developing a way of life that may be called, against all odds, one marked by WISDOM?

This seems highly unlikely, given the state of the world economy (which has a lot to do with short-sightedness and wastefulness), and more importantly, the planetary ecology. Fact is, humans have shown themselves to be immensely clever, intelligent beings (some of them, at least) but a good argument can be made that they lack “wisdom”, that elusive – and today hardly intelligible – capacity or quality of combining experience, knowledge, insight, sound judgment and decision-making into a life-practice that has a salutary effect on the people who can do this, as well as on those around them.

At the recent international Conference on the Humanities and Social Sciences in an African Context, which took place at St Augustine’s College of South Africa in Johannesburg, a surprising number of papers dealt with the topic of wisdom, some of them obliquely, some centrally. Professors Thaddeus Metz of the University of Johannesburg and Gerard Walmsley of St Augustine College, for example, focused directly on wisdom, with Metz arguing for “Wisdom as the Primary end of Higher Education: Why Citizenship is not enough”, and Walmsley conducting an illuminating overview of “Education for Wisdom: Yesterday and Today”. Both speakers pointed out that, although this notion was very prominent in ancient thinking, the contemporary literature on wisdom is relatively sparse, and moreover, that much of it leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, they agreed, wisdom has relevance for today. This is the case despite – or perhaps precisely because of – the postmetaphysical, technocratic world in which we live, and we can learn a lot from ancient philosophy in this regard.

One of the thinkers that Walmsley alluded to in this context – who also happens to be one of my own favourites – Pierre Hadot – is a valuable source for understanding what wisdom was for the ancient Greeks, and any attempt to re-inscribe its value in our own historical context would benefit from reading Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life (Blackwell, 1995). He reminds one that in the ancient world, knowledge or theory was never considered an “end in itself” but was “put in the service of practice” in no uncertain terms. Hence, the philosopher:

“Knows that the normal, natural state of men should be wisdom, for wisdom is nothing more than the vision of things as they are, the vision of the cosmos as it is in the light of reason, and wisdom is also nothing more than the mode of being and living that should correspond to this vision.” (Hadot 1995 p58.)

Needless to stress, ancient philosophers also knew that most people do not live according to such wisdom, which is why philosophers – who were said to be “in love with wisdom” – were regarded as being strange, and in a sense “atopos”, without a place. All that changed, of course, when philosophy became an intellectual, theoretical discipline to be taught at university, and (as Robert Pirsig argued in his novel, Lila) more often than not philosophy morphs into “philosophology” – a derivative phenomenon where students are expected to regurgitate what they have memorized from textbooks during examinations and tests, in contrast to philosophy “proper”, where philosophical “knowledge” gives rise to a certain praxis, or phronésis (practical wisdom) on the part of the person who can rise to the “invitation to philosophy”. What this means, becomes clearer where Hadot says (in an interview; 1995, p. 281):

“I have tried to define what philosophy was for a person in antiquity. In my view, the essential characteristic of the phenomenon ‘philosophy’ in antiquity was that at that time a philosopher was, above all, someone who lived in a philosophical way. In other words, the philosopher was someone whose life was guided by his or her reason, and who was a practitioner of the moral virtues. This is obvious, for example, from the portrait Alcibiades gives of Socrates at the end of Plato’s Symposium. We can also observe it in Xenophon, where Hippias asks Socrates for a definition of justice. Socrates replies: ‘Instead of talking about it, I make it appear through my actions’. Originally, then, philosophy is above all the choice of a form of life, to which philosophical discourse then gives justifications and theoretical foundations. Philosophical discourse is not the same thing as philosophy.”

The point about an “invitation” to philosophy is therefore that, while today philosophy as “philosophology” can be “taught” as a subject to be studied and passed in an examination, philosophy in the sense of practical wisdom cannot be “taught”, but at best be demonstrated on the part of someone who lives according to his or her philosophical insights. The latter includes, crucially, the insight that all knowledge is provisional and limited (Socrates’s famous “docta ignorantia”), and that human beings are finite and fallible. What seemed like a good idea yesterday, may turn out to be not such a good idea today – in both theory and practice. Geocentrism may have seemed a plausible belief 2000 years ago, but since Copernicus, at least, heliocentrism (regarding our own solar system) has persuasively replaced it. Similarly, monarchical autocracy may have seemed an acceptable political system yesteryear, but today democracy (which is by no means a self-evident concept, by the way) does not have any serious competitors in the political arena.

Why would it be advisable to re-cultivate “wisdom” in this sense, today, when “skills” are all the rage (combined with economic productivity and political docility) and living autonomously according to philosophical insights seems like a mere mirage on the horizon? Thomas Princen articulates one reason why “wisdom” should be resurrected today, where he remarks (in Treading Softly p30):

“As long as proponents of infinite growth on a finite planet keep the conversation on their terms, within their vision of endless abundance for all for all time, it continues – until the path drops off a cliff or erodes to a muddy impassable gully. And I am convinced that on this path greenhouse loading continues, dispersion of persistent toxic substances continues, and freshwater drawdown continues, not to mention job loss, family stress, and community decline.”

In the absence of any clear, ecologically-informed political and economic vision on the part of world leaders (even on the part of the great hope for change of recently re-elected US President Barack Obama) as far as the grim prospect of possibly unstoppable ecological degradation (to the point where there is a lack of fresh water) goes, it seems to me that ordinary people are called upon to adopt a renewed practice of wisdom. They have to do so in the face of the generally accessible, scientifically validated knowledge, that humanity is in the process of upsetting the ecological applecart, to the detriment of future generations and other living creatures, in its greedy pursuit of material (so-called) “wealth”. We should learn to live according to what Princen calls a “logic of sufficiency” — instead of a (consumer-driven) “logic of excess” — which would be a practice of wisdom, today.

Some people are already doing it. My young friends who returned from Britain, sick of living the “life” of consumers, are already far advanced in setting themselves up, on land made available to them by interested friends, to live according to the principles of permaculture. And they are not alone; the awareness is spreading. Not long ago a woman who has taught herself these principles came to give a talk at the Mountain Club of South Africa’s Eastern Cape branch (where my partner and I are members) and it was astonishing to learn that people are increasingly turning to what is, essentially, a new beginning of what might be called “planetary wisdom”. It is not all there is to wisdom, but it’s a good start.

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  • 47 Responses to “What ‘wisdom’?”

    1. GC #

      Seems to me that you have stumbled upon Laitman’s Kabbalist interpretation of the teachings of the sages of about 6000 years ago – kept sectret during the period the Church had total influence and made public in 1995.
      I am no expert on the subject but it is pretty obvious to me that if you place a glass over a burning candle the flame will go out – all the oxygen is consumed.
      Let the world’s greedy manufacturers and producers burn all the available oxygen in the atmosphere – nothing will live – so the will to live will naturally force the changes, as they will become inevitable.
      The balance in Nature – the Creator’s version – will ultimately be restored.
      Laitman explains Man’s greed versus enlightenment as a process that was Creator driven and totally meets current scientific thought and proof.
      Is this philosophy or common sense?

      November 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm
    2. Wisdom is also the ability not to believe your own bs and have the humility to be more inclusive of other cultural perspectives when you choose to speak on such a broad topic – one that has been pondered by ALL of humanity since the dawn of time.

      Again, as in your previous blogs, your narrow views are embarrassing when you chose to use such grandiose subject headings to entice readers to visit your blog. Your one dimensional education has forced eurocentric blinkers to your perspectives that prevents you from seeing that wisdom for what it truly is rather than the sole domain of western thinkers.

      November 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm
    3. This obsession with carbon emissions and even water drives me nuts. The real problem is what happens when we have mined all the minerals out of the earth and we have mega cities where people live 19 floors above the ground? What happens when there are no more mineral components for the lift shafts to operate or be replaced?

      Water actually never does get lost – it recycles. If we stopped wasting it and recycled it properly we would have no problem.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm
    4. Enough Said #

      @Dave Harris and @ Lyndall Beddy

      Ironic that the two of you are commenting on Bert’s article titled ‘What Wisdom?’.

      November 10, 2012 at 9:34 am
    5. According to my mother Plato said that no-one under 40 should study philosophy because they would not understand it. As a result of which, as a rebellious teenager, I got special permission from UCT to study philosophy in my first year when I was 18, and hated it – it was my worst mark!

      But if my mother was right – it would be a waste of time to try and explain the concept of wisdom to Julius Malema!

      November 10, 2012 at 9:37 am
    6. johnbpatson #

      There seems to be an underlying belief here, strange in a philosopher, that wisdom is necessarily good.
      This is not so — good people do not lie, wise people do so from time to time, especially when to tell the truth is life threatening.
      That way they live to a wise old-age.
      Even the perma-culture lot are an illustration of this.
      If they are good people they will grow as much food as possible to feed the hungry, instead of being wise (in their own eyes) and deliberately limiting production.

      November 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm
    7. Helen #

      Barry Schwartz did a TED talk available on You Tube on practical wisdom that challenges neoliberal preoccupation with ticking boxes and a devaluing of wisdom

      November 11, 2012 at 10:46 am
    8. Juju Esq. #

      “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones.”
      – John Maynard Keynes

      November 11, 2012 at 10:54 am
    9. Richard #

      @Dave Harris, everybody is shaped by the education they receive. Would you rebuff a Japanese blogger if he wrote from the perspective of Shintoism or Buddhism? It seems to me you are only opposed to white and Western perspectives, which shows your own limited and off-kilter perspectives.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:07 pm
    10. Richard #

      South Africa provides a perfect example of how the possibility of self-enrichment trumps any other economic model. Before 1994, in South Africa, the general consensus seemed to follow that of Nkrumah in the erstwhile Gold Coast, “Seek ye first the political kingdom.” In other words, the primary mover and power was vested in politics, or the supposed will of the people. However, almost as soon as the political battle was won, emphasis changed to self-enrichment at the expense of any bigger society. I think because abstract forms of exchange, such as money (necessary when society has job specialisation) are not indigenous to Africa, it cannot properly take root on the continent. It is as much a cultural manifestation as anything else. Job specialisation means that unless we all do the same jobs (build houses, grow things in fields, practise animal hubandry) the possibility of extracting value comes into play. Even in a barter system this is a factor; imagine a house-builder needing food, there may well be a third party introducing the parties to one another, who may require something for his services. As the failure of communism has shown, the desire for self-enrichment at the expense (excuse the pun) of others seems to be the greatest motive. As I have mentioned in other blogs, blood donation is the perfect example: far more people give blood when paid, even if they know how important the blood is. Money trumps society’s mutual obligations.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm
    11. @Richard
      If these “imaginary” SOUTH AFRICAN JAPANESE bloggers, that you speak about, that write about wisdom purely from the perspective of Shintoism or Buddhism AND lived in country as diverse as ours, I would certainly rebuff them accordingly. You may want to whisper in Bert’s ear that we live in Africa not Medieval Europe, when Europeans considered themselves the center of the universe as soon as they learned writing from the east!

      All Bert needs to do is be upfront and admit that his views are derived from a narrow European perspective and I would have no issue with this blog or his other blog “The language of globalisation” where he prematurely claims that English is now the de-facto language of globalization while we are in the beginning of the formation of a new world order with the rise of China, India, South America and Africa – countries that have been brutally oppressed by colonial powers for centuries.

      November 12, 2012 at 8:05 am
    12. Nkruhmah bankupted Ghana, which had been a rich colony exporting agricultural products under colonialism, in under 10 years. Read “A Passage to Africa”

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm
    13. Richard #

      @Dave Harris, South Africa is a diverse country, as you say, and therefore it should include perspectives of many people, as I believe this forum demonstrates. Each blogger presents items from his or her perspective, and does not write disclaimers at the beginning of each blog. Such things are understood; the only time that sort of thing is really required is in expert witness statements for medical or other litigation. You betray your own bias, however, in your comment, where you imply that Western views are “narrow” because Western powers have engaged in colonialism. Those are separate matters entirely, and you do yourself a disservice by conflating them. I have seen comments of yours on other blogs on this forum, where viewpoints are expressed from a non-Western perspective, and you have not made any reference to their narrowness or bias. It would be good if you stuck to the matter at hand instead of simply using them as opportunities to attack the West, as that simply renders your comments predictable polemic. Let’s try to discuss, and not attack.

      November 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm
    14. Policat #

      Hate to comment off the subject but Mr Harris’s fixation with turning every posting into an anti-western, white, colonization diatribe deserves some response.
      Colonization you always mention is not as Eurocentric as you would like everyone to believe but has been practiced ever since humans began migrating across the planet. Africa that you defend so vigorously has not been its only target and every continent on earth has been invaded, occupied and colonized at some or other time.
      According to current strong scientific hypotheses Africans were the first humans to start colonizing the other continents which led to the demise and extinction of the other human like species occupying these lands.
      As long the human species endures, and without some extraordinary behavioural change occurring, they will invade, conquer and colonize ad nauseam. We have even started invading and setting up plans for colonizing other planets and moons in the solar system.
      We are a very vibrant and curious animal, always looking for new opportunities.
      Don’t let yourself wallow Mr Harris, the myopic viewpoints will eventually consume you.

      November 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm
    15. Maria #

      Sigh – it seems that dear dull Dave did not get it when I last gave him a lesson in logic…so let me simplify: when I write about the virtues of peaches, without mentioning watermelons, logically speaking it does not follow that watermelons have nothing to recommend them. I may just happen to like peaches, and may not even have tried watermelons, which is my choice. Therefore, leave Bert to write about what interests him. As a matter of fact, he does not even read your comments, Dave…he has better things to do than to rise to the bait of an agent provocateur. How much do your even more dull-witted masters pay you, I wonder.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:12 pm
    16. Max #

      Dave Harris is right. I am also upset, disgusted, furious and offended at the Hindu people in my neighbourhood celebrating a “festival of light” in such a narrowly defined way. Their practise and understanding EXCLUDES ME and my appreciation of and understanding of such a broad topic as light. You would think that they would at least be upfront and admit openly in their displays, that their ideas about light are not African and not Western, you would think that they would alter their ways to adapt to an African context – yet they have the audacity to display their lights and sing their songs in my community as if everybody buys in to their narrow cultural understanding of such a broad topic. Thank you Dave Harris for showing the way.

      November 13, 2012 at 7:13 am
    17. @Policat
      Your justification of colonialism by claiming that humans due to their nature..”will invade, conquer and colonize ad nauseam.” is indeed shameful. This kind of warped logic was used to justify the brutality of apartheid – we seem to look kinda different, talk different, socialize differently…so some must surely be lesser than others! Sorry, but you’re too far gone for me to take you seriously.

      @Richard
      “Western views are “narrow” because Western powers have engaged in colonialism”
      Its actually worse than narrow! The obscene DOMINANCE of western economy, education, language, media etc. is vastly disproportionate to world demographics-this is largely the result of result of centuries of colonialism and imperialism. Here in SA, our problem is compounded by CENTURIES of institutionalized white supremacy which gives Bert a blind spot to his arrogance when he speaks of broad topics like “wisdom” without ANY caveats on his assumptions, biases, limitations etc, a sure sign of pseudo-intellectualism.

      November 13, 2012 at 7:46 am
    18. @Richard.. continued
      “..opportunities to attack the West….predictable polemic”
      Attacking the west? Playing the victim card again I see, how ironic! Then when are we ever going to recognize the greatness of African and other indigenous cultures that existed for thousands of years and survived western onslaught over the last few centuries. Even our own universities, supposedly educating our next generation of leaders, are severely unbalanced in favour of western education and still have the gall to marginalize African languages and culture, by calling Afrikaans and African language!!! Now the usual suspects, create hysteria against our Traditional Courts Bill, which seeks to re-install a more humane African system of dispensing justice that our rural folk can readily identify with, instead of foisting our current broken eurocentric system of retributive justice system that favours the rich. There is much to learn from China, India, Middle East etc. who have been down this path.

      November 13, 2012 at 7:47 am
    19. Lennon #

      @ Dave: It seems that anything written by a white person or any topic with ties to anything European (no matter how remote or indirect) elicits nothing but bile from you. I understand that you have beef with whites (and don’t try to deny it), but if you have nothing constructive to offer then why bother commenting?

      I’ve got problems with the way in which the US conducts business and politics (both past and present), but does that mean I should hate everyone from the US? Should I also hate all Hutus for the Tsutsi massacres of ’94 in Rwanda or all Germans for the Holocaust? Or maybe something closer to home? I could hate all Afrikaaners because of the way a previous employer and one of his managers treated me for being an Engelsman. How about doctors? Thanks to the idiocy of a few doctors, my mom’s mild case of multiple schlerosis got worse because the farkers injected her with cortizone (she was nearly paralysed). Hell, I think I’ll start hating all mosquitoes because one of them infected my brother with malaria a few months ago.

      Your vitriol serves no purpose other than to incite hatred where none exists. You’ve seem to have serious anger issues or you’ve got some kind of inferiority complex. Either way, get over yourself.

      November 13, 2012 at 11:30 am
    20. The Critical Cynic #

      @Harris
      nowhere do I see Policat making any attempt to justify colonialism. Pointing out that colonialism is inherent to human nature is neither defending it nor promoting it. Perhaps you would like to expand on the supposed merits of this new world order and explain to us how China is not a racist autocratic super-power with colonialist ambitions, seeing as you appear to think so highly of them?

      Or perhaps in the light of your comment that “Wisdom is also the ability not to believe your own bs and have the humility to be more inclusive of other cultural perspectives when you choose to speak on such a broad topic” you would like to counter many people’s belief that the ANC leadership lacks your expanded definition of wisdom? You are a victim of the ANC culture that Richard quite rightly points out is a polemic culture unwilling to engage in the dangerous practice of debate that would expose their autocratic subjective,dictatorial, racist, ageist, and laregly undemocratic attitudes.

      Great cultures typically survive beyond their “great until'” date, after which time they experience a period of decline as they lose their “greatness”, which is in itself a very subjective assessment.

      @Maria – I be that explanation wasn’t simple enough, & Harris will prove it soon. His absurd comments & the thinking behind them, epitomise the warped ‘logic’ that defends corruption and ineptitude and makes endless excuses for current failures to deliver across a broad…

      November 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    21. Can someone answer this question – why is it not racist for Zuma to say there is a difference between Black Man and White Man Law, but it is racist for any white to say exactly the same thing i.e. that the cultures are different?

      November 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm
    22. I’m interested in permaculture and would like to know if there are credible scientific sources that would show how this would be a better approach than say, the division of labour and comparative advantage of our current system.

      Recall that much of the fetish for infinite growth is not really about enriching the minority at the expense of the majority, but at keeping an increasing part of society in states of conspicuous consumption and fecundity. This besides the fact that we’re stuck with the greed of the rich and the envy of the less rich (because there are no real poor in the absolute sense any more) with its relative deprivation.

      Starting your own permaculture club is entirely in tune with good old classical liberalism values, but it remains to be seen if this is in tune with Enlightenment values.

      November 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm
    23. Lennon #

      @ Lyndall: It’s called a double standard – something that those in power get use as they please.

      November 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm
    24. The Critical Cynic #

      @Lyndall
      It’s not Racist because Zuma is a black man &therefore he cannot be a racist because South Africa’s definition of racism seems to restrict racism to being prejudicial or discriminatiory thoughts and actions by white people against people who aren’t white. i.e. Apartheid was racist.

      South Africa’s definition of racism (as is practiced by the ANC government) ignores or pushes aside the notion of racism as being the prejudicial or discriminatiory thoughts and actions by one racial grouping against another (e.g. English against Scots, Australians against aboriginees, Americans (USA) against American Indians, Germans against French, Japanese against Chinese – it’s a F*&King long list by the way!). Instead, it’s far easier and more convenient to think of it in terms of the narrow-minded definition above.

      This is why it is not racist in any way to pass BEE laws making it possible to advertise jobs for a particular racial grouping (anyone as long as you aren’t white) and argue it isn’t really racist or discriminatory and is in fact acceptable because it is busy redressing the injustices of the past and 2 wrongs now make it right. The Afrikaaners had a fine time discriminating against the English thanks to the boer war so why not let the black population discriminate against the white population for a while – Dave Harris or Tofolux could advise for how long.

      Of course, none of this is new to you as your question was rhetorical :)

      November 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm
    25. The Communists also have Double Standards

      Patrick Craven says he lives by “Das Kapital” by Marx which he thinks the best book ever written. Marx only defines people as Capitalists or Workers, Landlords or Peasants.

      Yet it is ONLY the White Farmers that COSATU rail against. The real Feudal landlords are the Homelands Tribal Chiefs who have appropriated the best land for themselves, expect tribute from a percentage of the produce of all the small peasant farmers and sell their men as migrant labour. They are the real Feudal type of Landlords that Marx railed against. But not a peep against them from either COSATU or the Communist Party.

      November 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm
    26. @Maria
      Sorry, I don’t speak the language of Bert’s sock puppet.

      @Lennon
      Playing the victim card again to deflect from the issue? By me calling out Bert’s white supremacy does not mean that I “hate” whites!! I love and value our diversity but that does not mean we must ignore our faults or not repair the damage caused by centuries of brutal oppression and theft!

      @Max
      We value our diversity and the contributions Indians have made in our struggle for freedom. Hindus never went on crusades to conquer and convert other cultures, they too value diversity, so you have nothing to be afraid off. But nice try, LOL

      @The Critical Cynic
      “colonialism is inherent to human nature is neither defending it nor promoting it”
      No, every spiritual tradition will tell you that violence is NOT inherent to human nature. And neither can you justify slavery and apartheid – the great evils of humanity.

      November 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm
    27. Trevor #

      I couldn’t help thinking of Carl Clausewitz’s almost mythical military General, who brought to the battle field all the learning in his head, combining it with an instinct for rational purpose and on-the-spot expediency, blending it magnificently in the heat of battle; a sort of wisdom. (“Genuine capability”) Clausewitz’s General was the blending forge of learning and brilliant practicality – and in the right proportion to boot; a genius, in fact. How do you learn that kind of thing, I wonder?
      I think Bert puts it well as a “capacity or quality of combining experience, knowledge, insight, sound judgment and decision-making into a life-practice…”

      November 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm
    28. Richard #

      @Dave Harris, “Playing the victim card again I see, how ironic!” I don’t believe I have ever played a victim card, and have never engaged in a parry with you (to use a Eurocentric metaphor), so it can’t be “again”. McDonald’s, the hamburger chain, has very successfully moved everywhere in the world. Nobody forces anybody to eat their food (I certainly don’t) but it is embraced by non-Western people at least as much as Western people (“Western” as a metaphor for white, indigenous European) out of choice. Nobody has forced the Chinese to buy Gucci and Louis Vuitton and engage in capitalism in extremis. Western-origin capitalism (since it is now international) has been very successful in co-opting others. Why do Africans and Middle Easterners try in their tens of millions to reach Europe every year? Nobody forces them to do this. It is one thing to be compelled to do a thing, quite another to be impelled. When I taught in the townships years ago, black Congo-origin Africans (as opposed to indigenous San Africans) used to laugh at pictures of the San Bushmen. I was intrigued, and asked them why, and they said they were poor and backward and “like animals.” Nobody forced the Congo-origin blacks living in southern Africa to think this way, it is simply how they thought, and obviously that is how they successfully replaced the indigenous peoples. People are free to embrace new things, you can’t force them to remain in what you consider to be an authentic cultural…

      November 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm
    29. Richard #

      (contd) setting. As for wealth and power being disproportionately in the hands of whites, that is simply because they manufactured the circumstances of their own enrichment. Africa is full of natural resources, it should be enormously wealthy. If Africans are not sufficiently canny or too corrupt to compete with others, that is unfortunate, but hardly the fault of others. You can’t expect the winner in an athletics race (usually a black Congo-origin African, out of all proportion to their numbers) to be blamed because others haven’t won. No doubt in due course some other economic system will come along which may better represent them.

      To return to the matter in hand, each person is educated within a certain system. I would rather hear Bert’s learned and competent argumentation within the Western framework than a hazy and incompetent argument within another framework. If you don’t allow multiple viewpoints you may as well live in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

      Just out of interest, it seems to me that what you are doing is amalgamating different subjects into one, which is a type of fallacious syllogism. Your major premise – that whites are uniquely evil – is what you attempt to back up with minor premises that are not really supportive, since they are not considered (ie, they do not take full cognisance of all the facts). That is why it all simply degenerates into polemic. If you can truly show that whites are uniquely evil, I’d like to read it.

      November 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm
    30. Lennon #

      @ Dave: You tell me that you “love and value our diversity…” and yet prior to that you told Bert that his “one dimensional education has forced eurocentric blinkers to your perspectives…”

      Bert’s take on things is but one part of the diversity that you “love and value”, but instead of saying “That’s cool, but here’s my take on the subject” you just attack him for expressing his opinion and epically fail to demonstrate how or where any notion of white supremacy forms any part what he has said.

      November 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm
    31. The Critical Cynic #

      @Harris
      re-read – whether it is true or not, pointing out that colonialism is inherent to human nature is neither defending it nor promoting it, yet you concluded it was being justified.
      Where do you get the idea that “every spiritual tradition will tell you that violence is NOT inherent to human nature”? that is rubbish, and every spiritual tradition, not one missed out nogal!

      Christianity teaches that the wicked come into the world speaking lies “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” (Psalms 58:3) and that all are born sinners and must be born again….

      Even if it were true that every spiritual tradition will tell you that violence is not inherent to human nature, the reality of the world (and let’s take our beloved Africa’s history for example), will show you that violence is very much inherent to human nature and woven into the very fabric of society, especially African society – watch the strikers here for proof of it, or go back to Rwanda in 1994 or – please Dave, there’s overwhelming evidence that we are violent by nature – and I bet you’d also be hard pressed to turn the other cheek under the wrong circumstances. Watch how quickly humans become animal when pushed.

      I agree that you can’t justify racism (although it also seems to be inherent to many humans’ nature) or apartheid, but I’ll bet you think BEE and AA are justifiable, and given certain circumstances most of us will justify killing.

      November 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm
    32. Noob #

      Richard, it goes beyond fallacious syllogism. You are “playing the victim card again” in Harris’s eyes because he sees you as a collective rather than an individual with your own thoughts. He does with with just about anyone who voices an alternative point of view, despite his self delusional post above expressing his tolerance for diversity (nearly choked on my tea when I read that). It’s simple binary polemic: if he assumes you are white, he will brand you a boa; if he assumes you are black, he will call you a coconut.its all so pointless and destructive, the cynic in me has to think that its a deliberate attempt to sabotage every discussion by hijacking every debate with racebased vitriol. What a waste of time!

      November 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm
    33. @Richard
      Many white South Africans play the victim card all the time, victims of “genocide”, of “racism”, of “taxation”, of crime etc. etc. etc.
      I’m not sure where you’re going with your line of reasoning, but western consumer culture cannot sustain our growing population and enforced by international free trade agreements that are typically one sided. The Chinese and Indians however, are learning to play the game of capitalism, albeit reluctantly, to prevent economic domination by economic imperialists.

      On white economic power, you say is due to “simply because they manufactured the circumstances of their own enrichment.”
      LOL, so is this the new euphemism for military might? Colonialism could only spread through the barrel of the gun.

      On Africa’s wealth, you say “Africa is full of natural resources, it should be enormously wealthy.”
      Did it ever occur to you that different cultures view wealth very differently? That other cultures, especially ones that believe in ancestral worship wish to live in harmony with their environment for future generations can enjoy?

      “whites are uniquely evil”
      Despite what white supremacists claim, race has no biological basis and the genesis of institutionalized racism & slavery based on skin color is a unique kind of evil that occurred for the first time in human history with colonialism. No spiritual tradition in human history EVER justified such an evil as apartheid. The brutality of apartheid was all time…

      November 14, 2012 at 7:32 pm
    34. @Lennon
      Let me say this s l o w l y again. For someone who claims to be an academic to speak on a broad topic like wisdom from such a narrow western perspective shows a hubris unbecoming of any academic. Remember this was a “international Conference on the Humanities and Social Sciences in an African Context” but not a word about wisdom from African traditions?!!! Eish, this conference sounds like another boondoggle so common among pseudo-intellectuals.

      @The Critical Cynic
      Please speak to a Christian pastor and ask him, or her ;-), if Christianity encourages violence to fellow human beings. This is why apartheid’s version of Christianity tried so desperately to indoctrinate South Africans into believing that people of color were lesser humans.
      Even though main stream media would like you to believe otherwise, violence is not a natural state of human beings who are inherently peaceful and loving creatures. I’m surprised that you, of all people, being a “critical cynic”, succumb to mainstream media!!!

      November 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    35. Lennon #

      @ Dave: For someone who spews a lot of criticism, you NEVER offer anything constructive.

      How about, just for once in your life, you actually bring something worthwhile to the party instead of just being a party pooper.

      Don’t you have any insights to offer on the nature of wisdom?

      November 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm
    36. We would have been much better off if the IFP and the Zulus had won the People’s Township war.

      They don’t whine and winge and play the victim – they consider themselves a warrior race and all the other tribes inferior. After hearing all the moans of the victims of inferiority – a good dose of superiority would suit me!

      November 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm
    37. Trevor #

      Dearie, dear! Bert, perhaps you should have researched Africa’s vast archival tradition before you wrote your ‘Wisdom’ article. But you’re up against it. Mazrui, the respected African philosopher, persuasively says that “Africa’s self-awareness requires a scientific and human archival tradition.” And much more besides, according to him. Then there’s the memorable words of the African poet, Fayturi: “Africa Oh Africa, wake up from your dark self…But you are still as you have always been, A rejected skull, a mere skull.” Words from Africa.

      November 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm
    38. Richard #

      @Dave Harris, not sure how reluctant the Indians and Chinese are to become capitalists. They have always been capitalists if you look at history. Wealth has existed (which is essentially the purpose of capitalism to a capitalist) for millennia in those societies; in fact, there is a school of thought to say that India was historically more successful in the past. China certainly has renewed its acquaintance with capitalism with ferocious vigour.

      Circumstances can occur in many forms, and is not a euphemism but a general term. It may refer to military might, as you say, or economic might, or scientific competence. Western pre-eminence took different elements of that at different times, as did Islamic pre-eminence up to the tenth century. Arabs did not occupy all of North Africa through gifts of sherbert, but Byzantine Greece managed to stave off the Turkish menace after their defeat in the Battle of Manzikurt (I think memory serves me correctly) by paying them. When the African Barbary Pirates raided Europe for the million plus people they kidnapped for white slavery (Cornwall was repeatedly raided) over centuries, France eventually colonised Algeria to control the trade. You will see the French as imperialists, I will see them as protecting themselves. That was another circumstance to which I referred.

      Regarding wealth, Africans see themselves as poor (I do not) and wish to change their circumstances, which they should be able to do easily, having natural resources.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm
    39. Max #

      Harris wants to sew a little yellow star of shame or a little pink triangle of shame, or a little red dot of stigmatization onto the fabric of Bert’s philosophizing. Dave wants point at his labels and shout “shame on you! shame you!”

      Harris’s ideas remind me of those people who won’t drive German cars because the cars don’t come with permanent bumper stickers confessing to and apologising for being tarnished by association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

      Won’t let their children listen to Starry Starry Night because it’s about a Dutch artist and therefore linked to colonialism and Apartheid. Never mind that in the same neighborhood there are cars from all around the world and songs being played from all around the world.

      Get a life Harris. There were views from all around Africa and all around the world presented at the conference.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:53 am
    40. Oh, btw here is a timely article http://mg.co.za/article/2012-11-09-whose-knowledge-is-it-anyway on the irrelevance of the pseudo-intellectual garbage emanating from our institutions of “higher” learning – relics of our past corrupt regime. I cross-referenced Bert’s blog. ;-)

      @Richard
      India and China NEVER EVER practiced the kind of CAPITALISM created in the west, devoid of social responsibility.
      You still have difficulty admitting that institutionalized racism was unique event in human existence! When you accept that, then ask yourself why?

      @Max
      Yes, it is indeed shameful of Bert to use taxpayer university funding to attend this boondoggle conference. This kind of rampant corruption at our universities is never spoken about.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:03 am
    41. Bert Olivier
      Bert #

      Max, thanks for pointing that out. Thanks also to Richard, for your (as always) insightful contributions, and to Trevor for your exemplary practice of irony. And to Maria, for (as always) your inimitable ‘defence’ of my position. That said, and without wishing to minimize the value of your (and other) contributions contra DH, I should point out that I believe you are wasting your time engaging in reasoned argument with him. I believe, as Maria has pointed out, that he is an ‘agent provocateur’ in the employ of the power elites, but whether this is the case or not, he is not ‘convincable’, because his agenda is dictated by an ideological programme. That is why I don’t even read his comments any longer; I did in the beginning, until I realized what he was up to.

      November 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm
    42. Max #

      Bert you also referenced Robert Pirsig whose work is deeply and profoundly inspired by indigenous non-western wisdom and philosophy if I’m not mistaken. Remember Dusenberry, native American trance wisdom and the Chautaqua. In fact Pirsig made some very insightful observations about the relationship between the colonist and the colonized – in either Lila, or Zen, I don’t remember exactly which.

      Yes, Harris’s ideological programme is a perfect example of the idée fixe; which as wikipedia notes “reveals a mindset akin to prejudice or stereotyping. Although not used technically to denote a particular disorder in psychology, idée fixe is used often in the description of disorders”
      He is fixated with binary either/or categories and black and white thinking – like an apartheid relic whose hatred has flipped from one form of supremacist racism to another.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:45 pm
    43. Bert, your attempt at character assassination is unbecoming of an “academic” and only serves to deflect from the real issue. Its an old apartheid trick used by some other bloggers on this forum as well.

      You are still unable to explain why how one can attend an “INTERNATIONAL Conference on the Humanities and Social Sciences in an AFRICAN CONTEXT” (my emphasis), to speak about a broad topic like “wisdom” yet totally ignore the African context!!

      @Max
      Nice try, but no cigar! Your clutching at straws just makes Bert’s task of trying to explain his weird blog, even more difficult! LOL

      November 17, 2012 at 9:55 am
    44. Max #

      Hahaha. That’s quite funny harris: your infantile sense of omnipotence really knows no bounds does it? you arrogate to yourself the role of setting tasks for Bert to accomplish now.

      Harris you fail repeatedly and dismally to explain why, despite commenting on a site called thoughtleader, you are capable only of contributing a set of inconsistent fixed ideas, always simplistic, always mean-spirited, hateful and always pandering to the power elite.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm
    45. Maria #

      I wonder if dive harass thinks that, in this age of globalization “the African context” can be separated from the rest of the world? He is singularly uninformed if he does….

      November 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm
    46. @Richard:
      I commend you for your measured response, I can see you have the patience of years of teaching behind you. Perhaps this is what wisdom is?

      Off the cuff, in the information science view the daisy chain goes form data to information to knowledge. We’ve progressed leaps and bounds to the stage where we are leaving the information age and entering the knowledge age. There are already expert systems that work similarly to having a panel of experts at hand on various topics. This level of expertise was formerly unattainable without years of trial and error. Point being perhaps we can reach a point where we build knowledge systems, with one adverse effect being similar to kids reaching for calculators whenever they need to do arithmetic.

      November 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm
    47. Richard #

      @Garg, I think wisdom (in the sense you mean) is understanding that everybody comes from a particular set of circumstances, and to try to understand why they think what they think. It usually works. Patience and sincere efforts are generally fruitful, especially if you can demonstrate that you are not attempting to force anything upon others, but simply trying to let them see why you think the way you do. Some people are genuinely unable to place themselves in the shoes of others, but they invariably have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies. It’s all down to empathy, in the end.

      November 19, 2012 at 5:38 am

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