Thursday, December 12, 2013

Understanding why some people can't "see" Ubuntu

In describing President Obama as an integral leader, Jim Stuart recently wrote this:
On balance, most of us in the US and elsewhere have a binary view of conflict: if you win, I lose, and vice versa. And we are completely immersed in the consciousness of scarcity, resource conflict, and fear of the other. Clearly, Gandhi, Mandela and King operated from a different level of consciousness, where abundance, peacemaking, and trust were the qualities seen first, and were part of each leader's basic operating system. Developmental psychologists call this level of consciousness integral, and tell us that less than 5% of the world has attained this consciousness level. Obama, I believe, is part of this small percentage of people who see things whole...

...none of this makes sense to our pundits - that operational mode doesn't compute - power is everything; the powerful are always the winners; never let your guard down; he who has the gold rules, etc, - so folks just cannot see it when something like what has just happened, occurs.
I want to credit Jim with helping me understand that some people literally cannot "see" what is happening. Yesterday I ran across a perfect example of this in commentary about the life of Nelson Mandela. It came from something written by Ted Rall, the cartoonist that was accused at Daily Kos of depicting President Obama as a gorilla/monkey. I'll warn you...its probably going to make you angry. Go ahead and let yourself react. But then take a moment to think about what he literally can't see.
Many black South Africans are disillusioned by Mandela and his ANC government. Residents of the townships are suffering horribly, yet this “black” “democratic” government hasn’t done much more for them than the old apartheid regime. This was due to two terrible decisions by Mandela in 1994. First, he decided against seeking justice against the apartheid-era criminal whites. Obviously this was the result of pressure from the USA and the West. The ANC called it “reconciliation.” Others called it a sellout. These horrible murderers got away with murder. The lesson to the murderers of the future is, don’t worry, you won’t pay for your crimes.

Second, Mandela and the ANC decided not to implement the communist programme of their socialist and communist allies. Income and wealth redistribution were left on the table. The result is a South Africa that looks the same as before: rich whites, poor blacks. Heckuva job, Nelson.
You have to wonder if Rall even saw the outpouring of love for Madiba from black South Africans over the last few days when he suggests that they are "disillusioned" by him. For an entirely different take on all that, please go read how Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses these same arguments when they come from conservatives. But I'll let that one go for now.

It is clear that Rall has absolutely ZERO ability to understand Ubuntu...the African concept that President Obama described this way:
...his [Mandela's] recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
It got me to thinking about Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Here's how I'd break it down:

Ted Rall : Stage Four - "A central ideal or ideals often prescribe what is right and wrong, such as in the case of fundamentalism. If one person violates a law, perhaps everyone would—thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones."

Nelson Mandela: Stage Six - "moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws...This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true. The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it avoids punishment, is in their best interest, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon."

Al Giordano made a similar argument when discussing how liberals who are entrenched in stage four moral development made the argument that President Obama MUST prosecute Bush/Cheney for torture.
There are times when “The Law” is dressed up in liberal language in a way that masquerades the bloodlust behind witch hunts and impulses to scapegoat individuals for crimes or taboos that, in a democracy, we’re all responsible for having enabled.

The same tendencies that have always placed me squarely against McCarthyism and Red Scares put me on the opposite side of some liberal and progressive colleagues today when they demand the prosecution of Bush, or of Cheney, or of some of their underlings...

In the end, preventing torture is a political struggle and also a power struggle, so much more than a matter of "The Law." It’s about changing society and its presumptions, and changing institutions, like the military and police agencies, where the culture is so prone to that kind of abuse.
Giordano makes the case that ultimately it is in the spirit of Ubuntu that we will effectively dismantle the structures that support atrocities like torture. And that is exactly the approach Madiba took when seeking reconciliation with those who committed similar atrocities under the apartheid regime.

What I've come to see from all this is that there is a reason we come to loggerheads when trying to discuss these issues. Gawd knows that I have tried and failed more times than I'd like to remember. I'm thinking that it sounds patronizing to posit that those who don't understand are operating from a lower stage of moral development. It goes against the grain of humility that I've been talking about lately.

But the truth is, those stages of moral development - while not a perfect theory (no system that attempts to capture human behavior is perfect) - are based on tested scientific observation. In other words, they at least begin to describe the human condition. There doesn't have to be prejudice in applying them to human behavior. So as long as we come to a conversation like this with a good dose of humility in our own limitations, understanding the conflicts in this way actually releases us from the attachment to win/lose, either/or and allows us to understand. That's what I'm working on "seeing"... in the spirit of Ubuntu.


  1. You're a breath of fresh air, Smarty. The left being as simple minded as the most ignorant and hateful on the right is a toxic perspective, not a demonstration of political and worldly wisdom.

    At this point I can hardly bear the company of most liberals on-line. Just read this,

    "... Barack Obama (the guy who buddied up to the Conservatives in his class at Harvard, then buddied up to his Republican colleagues in Springfield, and who has again and again sacrificed or cripplingly compromised core Liberal policies and ideals to mollify some nonexistent group of "reasonable" Republicans..."

    and don't want to return to that website. It's like most of the liberal blogosphere these days are full of people who are convinced that they're smarter and more competent than President Obama because of how easily they string their words together and because they've read a synopsis for a 101 course in Class Struggle (is for losers).

    We're three years into a second decade of a conversation on climate change that goes

    nuh uh global warming hoax
    uh huh global warming ice caps
    nuh uh global warming stupid liberal
    uh huh global warming stupid denier global warming real global warming bad

    It's like a bunch of adults in a house in the path of a monster storm arguing endlessly with a three year old who is playing with matches, like that's what demonstrates that they're smarter and more competent than the 3 year old, like that is going to somehow inform them about what they need to do to save themselves and the 3 year old, and stay reasonably functional in the aftermath.

    Also, the reaction to good news--- even phenomenally and profound good news is too often "but...." and pointing out something that is bad. Even in the short run this is fodder for burn- out and little more. At this juncture, a lot of liberals should have something on their person at all times saying, "I was right! It's bad!" so that if anyone who finds a liberal's body after the deluge can see that they've won.

    It's pretty silly for educated people to think that their abstractions are solutions to concrete problems and to not know the difference between knowledge and intelligence, and to conflate a glib answer with a workable solution. A lot of humility is lost at the 101 stage and the answers to challenges of enhancing the human prospect is not the right answer on a multiple choice test.

    We can do better than this. Recognizing that we're not such special snow flakes that we have the answer to monumental problems, and that recognizing that there is a problem is merely the first step toward a far more complex set of struggles that must be lived (not just talked about) would at least set us on the path of having better and more useful conversations. We need to ask ourselves and each other better questions.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "In the end, preventing torture is a political struggle and also a power struggle, so much more than a matter of "The Law." It’s about changing society and its presumptions, and changing institutions, like the military and police agencies, where the culture is so prone to that kind of abuse."

    I would add to Al's statement that "we" (all of us) on some level support or enable crimes committed by the military or police agencies in our name. These actions are not done in a vacuum. Our energies feed it and sustain it on some level. And you are right, Smartypants, we need to ask ourselves better questions. Such as, how am I contributing or enabling what I claim to abhor. What do I need to do to make my own change? As Michael Jackson sang, "I'm starting with the man in the mirror." And my own shadow side.

  3. Look, all you have to do is look to the north of South Africa and see why Mandela did not walk down the path of retaliation...Zimbabwe.

    For those who don't know, Zimbabwe use to be called Rhodesia and had a similar racist regime. When that regime was overthrown, Robert Mubage, current President of the newly-named, Zimbabwe, took the country in the exact opposite direction as Mandela, and as a result, his country is suffering. The economy is suffering from hyperinflation.

    In the meantime, South Africa's economy is more stable. Sure, there are still huge disparities of wealth between whites and blacks here, but when you look at Zimbabwe, the situation is much worse. Mugabe's entire approach was more radical and extreme. This has resulted in polarization between the indigenous blacks who feel justified in reclaiming land that was taken from them and whites who feel victimized by Mugabe's harsh policies against them.

    When I read online comments by white supremacist stating that Mandela was not hero, but a terrorist, I seriously think they were mistaking him for Mugabe and South Africa for Zimbabwe. This is not a cut-and-dry issue. White-dominated rule in Southern Africa was a major injustice, but at the same time, whites in the region have rights as well and unfortunately, a long-standing system has been established. So, how do you change it? Do you take a slower course as advocated by Mandela which results in existing racial disparities, but results in a more stable economy and less political turmoil? Or do you take a more radical course as done by Mugabe which results in hyperinflation and political polarization? How do you weigh the need for justice for wronged blacks with the need for reconciliation and economic stability? But, hey, even here, the emo-left of America thinks it has the answers nobody else does...yeah right!

    I'm sorry, but these lefties simply don't understand just how complex politics can be. They are so busy with their abstractions that they don't see just how things happen on the ground. I've been fortunate in that I've seen some of what's going on in this region firsthand through travelling to Southern Africa and by former counterparts in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. And folks, let me tell you, there are no easy answers.

    These same lefties don't even know that there are key differences between apartheid and the system of racism here in the United States (with apartheid being more severe). This means that Nelson Mandela had a much bigger fight on his hands than Martin Luther King and its amazing that he took South Africa as far as he did. MLK did spent time in jail, but not nearly as much as Mandela.

    Yet, these guys still claim to know more than President Obama when they barely understand the complex issues of race in Southern Africa (and let's not even talk about racial issues happening in their own American backyards). In this regard, they are just as ignorant as the right-wing counterparts and I'm sick of it. They need education themselves or STFU!

    1. I have one more thought on the subject. Whereas Nelson Mandela believed in Ubuntu and had reached stage 6 in moral reasoning, Robert Mugabe did not and is still stuck at stage 4. And when you compare the directions of both South Africa and Zimbabwe, the results are striking. Whereas South Africa's future is brighter and has the potential of eventually overcoming the racial disparities that still exists, Zimbabwe's future is more questionable and has deepened racial animosity.

  4. For a fuller explication of this sense of "seeing", you may wish to read kuhn's structure of scientific revolutions.

  5. Mo'nin, Ms. Pants
    Just want to say, though it's been for a bit, now, that it's SO good to have you back and AT it. And, you MOST assuredly are AT it.
    As always, thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for weighing in Blackman! I was beginning to wonder where you'd gone off to ;-)

  6. Hi Nancy --

    I've read your blog for a while now and simply want to say how much I appreciate your perspective and the way you offer it. I worked a conflict resolution professional for many years and have studied Integral theory and the model of the stages of adult development. Thank you for this thoughtful, beautiful post. I'm not especially religious but what you wrote above about the humility with which it's seeming to me as well with which we must all come into these political engagements brought to mind a line from the Prayer of St. Francis with which I have struggled greatly: [G]rant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand ...

    Thank you, Nancy, for continue to grapple so honestly and eloquently with such challenging and elusive questions.