SA politics sometimes simple
A few weeks ago, after I wrote a piece about the scientific and technological advances that have been made in artificial intelligence and robotics, I received a rather silly e-mail message.
This message summed up the nature of SA politics.
The message, from one of the county’s distinguished thinkers – the word “distinguished” is actually in his official title – said that I should admit to now being in league with Elon Musk.
The one lesson I got from this message was the othering that I was exposed to.
This is the way you associate someone with something odious, something lesser than yourself and then, by association, you increase your own standing and righteousness.
Let’s be clear, this does not mean there are not people who may, rightfully, be associated or who have been complicit in some of the worst injustices in the country, or in the world.
But when othering is applied to insult others for the sake, purely, to elevate one’s own standing, it becomes, well, tiresome and offensive.
Nonetheless, in some ways the distinguished fellow who sent me the e-mail message actually represented the nature of SA politics rather well.
Just to clear up: my personal views of Musk (and Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, for that matter) are based on their technological and scientific interests.
I am deeply opposed to their social and political views and practices, their ethics and the way they treat workers.
Bezos, in particular, treats his workers with practices that verge on cruelty.
Consider a news report published in the UK in April this year and which explained that workers at one of Amazon’s warehouses have to urinate in bottles, out of fear that they would lose their jobs if they spent too much time off the floor.
The investigation revealed that one particular Amazon warehouse employed hundreds of workers who had to walk for as long as 10 minutes to toilets located on a different floor of the four-storied building.
In short, my interest in Bezos and Musk is restricted to their interests and investment in scientific exploration, and in research and development.
I should say, also, that I am quite fearful of a world in which the application of these technologies is done without ethical, moral or environmental principles.
Setting all of that aside, the question of SA politics, and how to understand or explain it is sometimes quite simple.
You take a single element of a personal statement, and add to it all the worst things you can dig up or imagine.
That sentence is a bit convoluted. Let me explain.
If, for instance, I said that Athol Trollip was a nice person (which I happen to believe), the elaborate weaves start with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, moves to the dispossession of land, to slavery (my own family are descendants of slaves brought to the Cape from the Nusantaran world by the Dutch) and, of course, I am considered to be an apologist for apartheid, racism and white dominance.
Another example would be that if I said that Andile Lungisa was not a very smart man, and that he was violent and a threat to society, the leap is made that I hated the ANC, or hated black excellence or, worse still, that I am a “house nigger” – the go-to insult for anyone who dares to oppose the EFF, the ANC Youth League or any of the freeloaders who build careers and fortunes on fealty to the ruling party.
This pattern is apparent across society, where politics is based on crude binaries and false moral equivalents.
The one issue that is risible is the belief in eternal truths and, of course, the assumptions of eternal innocence.
I may have written about these issues before, so I apologise in advance.
This binary thinking would insist that our beliefs and values are eternally valid.
We cling to ideas and the words of people who have long since left our world and pretend that these people would not have changed their minds over two or three decades when new information becomes available.
People can, and do, change their minds when new information becomes available. Consider this.
Steve Biko once said that we black South Africans should do our own mining of natural resources, including asbestos.
It’s safe to say that if Biko learnt of the health and safety concerns around asbestos mining, he would have changed his mind.
I can think of other things about which he may have changed his mind.
In some ways, then, to understand SA politics you have to resort, in the first instance, to logical fallacies and to race.
When that fails, turn to the words of long-dead thinkers and make like everything they said, many years ago, remained eternally valid.
And if all else fails, use insults...