Why is there so little, if any, respect for and, as a consequence, interest in African phenomena and their philosophical resonances?
Olufemi Taiwo suggests,
“It is only insofar as Western Philosophy has passed itself off as Universal Philosophy that we may talk of the peculiar absence. It is only insofar as we confront, or have to deal with, or inhabit a world constructed by Western Philosophy that we are forced to think of an absence and of how to make sense of it. And we must confront our absence from the history of this tradition because, no thanks to colonialism and Christianization, we are inheritors and perpetrators of this heritage. Additionally, given that the “West” presents itself as the embodiment and inventor of the “universal,” we must protest even more loudly that its universal is so peculiar and that its global is so local. That is, the West, in constructing the universal, instead of truly embracing all that there is, or at least what of it can be so embraced, has merely puffed itself up and invited the rest of humanity, or the educated segment of it, to be complicit in this historical swindle.”
This is great stuff: I submit that one source for the birth certificate of this false universal is to be found in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s The Philosophy of History. The ghost of Hegel dominates the hallways, institutions, syllabi, instructional practices, and journals of Euro-American philosophy. Which is why you would never find a poor devil like me going for a PhD in philosophy in an academic setting. I had to study higher mathematics and computer science and all that engineering crap so that I might scrap a living … Too bad I lack the “ass-licking” gene to be of any use to the managers of Taker Prison. But I digress!
This excerpt I am particularly impressed with – obviously (I already highlighted and increased the font size). I will ask you to read it again:
… Given that the “West” presents itself as the embodiment and inventor of the “universal,” we must protest even more loudly that its universal is so peculiar and that its global is so local. That is, the West, in constructing the universal, instead of truly embracing all that there is, or at least what of it can be so embraced, has merely puffed itself up and invited the rest of humanity, or the educated segment of it, to be complicit in this historical swindle.
barbarism – the belief that the laws of one’s own tribe are the laws of the universe.
Schopenhauer despised Fichte and Schelling, but he hated Hegel and described him as ‘that clumsy and nauseating charlatan, that pernicious person, who completely disorganized and ruined the minds of a whole generation.’ On almost any square foot of ground in the landscape of his writings a geyser of wrath may suddenly erupt, spewing out imprecations against the same three men. ‘What was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make use of this privilege; Schelling at best equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel…’Hegel, said Schopenhauer, was ‘a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan, who with unparalleled effrontery compiled a system of crazy nonsense that was trumpeted abroad as immortal wisdom by his mercenary followers…’
I do not think anything in the whole history of philosophy compares with this invective by one now world-famous philosopher against another, especially when one considers that they were near-contemporaries and colleagues.
Schopenhaer did not hesitate to criticize the then popular, state-sponsored Hegel: “It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity.”
If it is any consolation to Olufemi Taiwo, Arthur Schopenhauer did not earn a living as an academic philosopher and had no reason to lie. I believe it is appropriate at this juncture to go on a tangent. Schopenhauer was not afraid to proclaim unpopular opinions, such as that, “there is no such thing as a white race, much as this is talked of, but every white man is a faded or bleached one.” Schopenhauer possessed keen and sagacious foresight on this point; hence, implying that “Europeans” were “albinic.” Schopenhauer seems to get ignored by academia, but not here.
Hegel paved the way for the police state … since it is from police reports that History is written, and we know that police do lie … as do the “victors of war,” colonizers, and conquerors. Schopenhauer clearly understood that Western civilization has afro-asiatic roots, which is why I get so confused when I come across passages where Schopenhauer seems to ignore his own insights, where he actually employs the term “white races,” and attributes intellect and “civilization” to consequences of harsh northern climates. Why can’t he remain consistent? I am calling upon the ghost of Schopenhauer for this exorcism of Hegel, and yet … there are points where I am a little put off by Schopenhauer himself.
The highest civilisation and culture, apart from the ancient Indians and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilisation.
But, let’s not get it twisted:
The horrors and brutalities, which are practised on the negro are absolutely repulsive and contrary to all law and justice. Through the medium of the lynch-law, the white man has free license to abuse and torture his black neighbour at will.
————————————————————————— Back to Olufemi Taiwo and this exorcism. —————————————————————————
I see where Schopenhauer makes the same error as Hegel with respect to not acknowledging Egypt as Africa. Schopenhauer also seems ignorant about the origin of the “color-coded class system” of India. Didn’t the lighter-skinned “Iranian cow-herders” invade and brutalize the more sophisticated literate dark-skinned natives of India and impose a color-coded class system through the religion they invented specifically to reverse the natural order?
We are not told what Hegel meant by his statement that the northern part of Africa was “to be attached to Europe.” Hegel had no doubt that this job deserved completion and that part of Africa must be attached to Europe. And it has remained attached to Europe ever since. The phrases that I adumbrated earlier manifest this sundering of Egypt from Africa and its forcible attachment to Europe in the imagination of both Hegel and his descendants. There are other manifestations of this attachment. For example, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, for a long time did not have an African pavilion. Yet this did not prevent it from having a very impressive display of artifacts from Ancient Egypt as part of the “Near East” pavilion!
Having severed Egypt from Africa and making it safe for History, Hegel was free to zero in on what he called “Africa proper” and single it out for an extremely malicious libel, the outlines, if not the exact content, of which have continued to structure the understanding of Africa in the consciousness and institutions of Hegel’s descendants.Egypt must be separated so that the racist attack to follow will have a veneer of respectability. How strong that veneer is can be seen in the persistence of this view of Africa in the imagination and discourses of Hegel’s descendants.Treating Africa with respect for its integrity and heteronomy does not translate into the kinds of deductions that Hegel proceeded to make about the African situation. Let us examine some of them.According to Hegel, Africans lack the category of Universality. This arises from the fact that they are one with their existence; they are arrested in immediacy. This means that they have not separated themselves from nature. “The Negro,” Hegel wrote, “exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state”. As such, the African is shorn of the idea of a self that is separate from his needs and, simultaneously, has no knowledge of “an absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual Self”. Under this conception, central to religion is the idea of transcendence, the idea that there is some reality that is beyond us, beyond our understanding, before which we submit ourselves in supplication; in short a Mysterium. This mysterium, however conceived, is the concern of Theology and of the Philosophy of Religion to reveal, to make sense of, as a condition for unearthing the place of humans in the scheme of things. In other words, Africans supposedly lack any Theos to the revelation of whose Logos Philosophy is dedicated. For Hegel, Negroes are mired in sorcery, worship of graven images that are easily perishable, and worship of the dead. They do not possess a mysterium; they lack transcendence, and are without a Theos whose Logos they might have constituted a philosophy to reveal.That was Hegel. How do things stand with his descendants?African religion is dismissed as ancestor worship or spirit worship.It is alleged that the proliferation of gods, polytheism, in African cultures is a mark of backwardness of the One Mysterium, the Being than which Nothing Greater can be Conceived! Thanks to this mindset, every time that an African intellectual writes about “African Religion” he/she is called upon to justify the attachment of the epithet “African” to the substantive “Religion”. We are bogged down in arguments about pedigree that it should be obvious we cannot win.
From what I have argued so far it should be obvious that although Hegel’s descendants no longer brazenly affirm the garden variety of racism that Hegel embraced in their attitude towards African intellectual production, a more benign but no less pernicious variety of racism continues to permeate the relationship between Euro-America and Africa. Of greater relevance for our claim that Hegel authored the frame in which Africa is perceived and related to by his descendants is his declaration concerning Africa’s place in the discourse of world history. My argument is that the continuing failure to accommodate Africa, without qualification, in the concert of humanity in ways that this has been done for Asia, for example, illustrates the continuing impact of the reach of Hegel’s ghost. Here is Hegel’s finale:
At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it-that is in its northern part-belong to the Asiatic or European World. Carthage displayed there an important transitionary phase of civilization; but, as a Phoenician colony, it belongs to Asia. Egypt will be considered in reference to the passage of the human mind from its Eastern to its Western phase, but it does not belong to the African Spirit. What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the World’s History.
Let us grant that Hegel’s ignorance and crudities reflected in part the state of Europe’s knowledge of Africa then. How do we explain his descendants’ behavior now? It is only recently that Hegel’s descendants began to come back to Africa. For until now, it is as if Euro-American Philosophy had remained in the cold vise of Hegel’s ghost.
Which is why I am meditating upon a project that will help me break free of this vise … Anti-History? How to we exorcise the ghost of Hegel and come out of the shadows?
Until we exorcise the ghost of Hegel, we will continue to botch the challenge that Africa poses to philosophy!
Schopenhauer could help a great deal, but, even as he himself said, “What can be more depressing, or rather more shocking, than to see the true and profound rejected, and the false and absurd praised and commended?”
The older I get, the more convinced I become that countless “scientists,” psycho-analysts, phenomenologists, ontolgists, “existentialists,” and others were secretly influenced by Schopenhauer’s philosophy, but they kept the source of their mental stimulation hidden, perhaps even from themselves.
In the introduction to Volume One of The World As Will and Representation, Schopenhauer states, “Now one more word for the professors of philosophy. I have always felt compelled to admire not only the sagacity, the correct and fine tact with which, immediately on its appearance, they recognized my philosophy as something quite different to, their own attempts – as something that did not suit their purposes …”
The professors of philosophy have suppressed what is of importance and significance.
I am convinced that Freudian Psychoanalysis, and psychology in general, including Cognitive Science, as well as Husserlian Phenomenology, are all manifestations of Schopenhauer’s silent influence. I wonder why so many thinkers fail to see the roots of these later developed “sciences of the mind” in Schopenhauer’s philosophy. There must be a systematic confederacy of dunces running this asylum. I for one, am paying attention.
In order to assist in this exorcism, I once again must recommend including Schopenhauer’s work. While it seems to be ignored, it does sort of become an operator’s manual for Being-in-the-world, influencing the ways in which we experience our very own “situation.”
Introspection and metacognition require no expensive labratories or universities or cathedrals. Just an attentive awareness …
Power dictates the manufacture of stupidity. Enforced stupidity. Locked down in stupidity.
I conclude by offering a few suggestions on how the ghost may be exorcised. I should warn that this is one mean ghost that will be tough to exorcise. In the past when it was fashionable to be racist, there were many who openly celebrated the sightings of the ghost as a much welcome reminder that Africans should know their place and stay there. How times have changed!The ghost has now insinuated itself into the innermost recesses of the academy and it is more likely now that Hegel’s descendants will plead pragmatic considerations for why the peculiar absence persists. Such an explanation would likely blunt the edge of our criticisms because, as we all know, these are lean times and we must deploy limited resources for maximal uses. One can see how the ghost continues to stalk the present: the unspoken assumption is that Africa does not offer a good enough return to justify deploying resources to its study.Until they get rid of the voice of the Hegelian ghost whispering in their inner ear that Africa is not worth it, that Africa has nothing worthwhile to offer, they will continue to botch the challenge that Africa poses to philosophy.
“What can be more depressing, or rather more shocking, than to see the true and profound rejected, and the false and absurd praised and commended?” ~ Schopenhauer
As Zamyatin had said, children are the boldest philosophers. Like children, like Schopenhauer, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, ask, “Why?” and “What next?”
In trying to penetrate nature’s inner being, we have no need of labratories or universities, as I think I mention already. We only need to pay attention to the contents of our own minds. We need introspection and contemplation, which is basically all this “phenomenology” really is. All psychoanalysis is is trying to know self, which has always been the consolation of philosophy for as long as we [nearly] chimpanzees have been wondering why the cosmos exists rather than not.
I do not think there are any real inventions in science and theory. We have the same will, the same hallucination-generated phenomena constructed by the brain as antennea for the organic will to feel its way in Being. I think one of the damages of the modern conception of being human is that it ignores the fundamental dependency that the entire cosmos has on a conscious sentient being to experience its existence. Worlds require Beings in order to Exist.
To exist for others is to be represented in their brains. Being-in-itself is the will. You know, conversation enhances our understanding, but solitude is the school of genius. It is not that I am “too smart.” It is that my interests have taken me a million miles from “normal conversation.”
I am focused on what is most general and universal. In a sense, I feel like I am receiving and passing a torch, and of course, botching it up along the way … since we really are nothing but a chain of articulate chimpanzees who really don’t have any more of a clue than anyone else as to the true nature of being-in-the-world. The one clue we may have to our advantage is an awareness of our ignorance. I, for one, am quite skeptical about the possibility of being certain about anything at all.
My latest “project” is to prove that I do not exist.
Descartes was completely wrong with his, “I think, so therefor I am.”
Schopenhauer was more direct and profound when he wrote, “The world is my representation,” forcing us to take that great leap where we acknowledge the “intentional nature” of what appears to us as “the external world.” These “images” of the world are constructed through information we pick up with our feelers (antenea, senses (eyes, ears, touch, taste), emotions). The images are as “imaginary” as the images in dreams.
Images in reality are no more “solid” than images in a dream. The same brain that constructs the appearances/feelings while asleep is the same brain that constructs the map of the world for us to find our way when awake. It is all internal presentation created by stimuli and understanding.
I don’t know how to go about exorcising the ghost of Hegel. One could start by reading Schopenhauer. From there, one just has to follow the trails throughout the unfolding of histories to realize that truth gets silenced. If you want to know what is real, you have to look within your own brain. How are our “worldviews” influenced by institutionalized stupidity?