What are the disadvantages of the African philosophy
African thinkingThe art of the palaver
Michael Magercord: A dialogue between cultures - how often is it called for! But how should one lead it? Especially when the dialogue partners are two cultures as different as the Black African and the Western European?
The view of Africa is shaped by concerns about the influx of refugees or the spread of epidemics. On the other hand, there is great potential for the future on the black continent. It is no longer just the raw material supplier Africa that attracts attention, but also its young and dynamic population.
So far, economic interests have dominated the exchange between Africa and Europe, but are there also cultural points of contact in the two neighboring continents?
The French thinker and author Vincent Cespedes is convinced of this. The 41-year-old describes his numerous books, television appearances and lectures, in which the black continent is mentioned again and again, as applied philosophy. For it is only in dialogue with Africa that western modernity can cope with the primary task of philosophy, namely to recognize itself.
Vincent Cespedes calls for a great palaver between the two cultures and offers initial instructions - with very practical consequences for everyday life. Palaver. African thinking. The French philosopher Vincent Cespesdes in conversation with Michael Magercorf.
"But that means the disenchantment of the world: You no longer have to resort to magical means like the savage, for whom such powers existed, in order to control or ask for the spirits, but technical means and calculation do it." Max Weber, 1919
Vincent Cespedes: We are in a crisis of meaning that Max Weber called the disenchantment of the world. We are still disenchanted, but we want to be enchanted again, but no longer know how that could happen. What we are seeing instead is a retreat of religions, ideologies, and the great unifying narratives. But Africa could show us how one can still live in the great narratives.
For Europe that is actually different, the true, complementary one, not Asia, which is far away. Not even Mexico or South America, they are also far away. It is Africa that we have mocked and exploited and that we now have to rediscover in the sense of a philosophy of unity and brotherhood. And of course we should also ask Africa for help, for solutions and a dialogue, because a Euro-African palaver would be necessary for our technical civilization to find its way out of its current impasse.
Lean cord: The savage and the disenchanted man - Max Weber's juxtaposition is as old as the discovery of the differences between people and their cultures. The confrontation with the other was used to reflect grievances in one's own culture and society using the image of a pure original state.
So help in overcoming the crisis of meaning, and that requires an ideal, sometimes idealized, counterpart. So far, Africa has seldom tried to do this. The magical world of spirits presumed there is considered to be far too distant and backward. But is that true? Could Africa teach us modern, enlightened people from the West something?
Let's play it through and imagine a situation that Vincent Cespedes conjured up in his only novel so far called Maraboutés. Let us be carried away by a marabout, an African ghost slayer. What would he have to say to us?
Too much I, too little we in the West
Cespedes: If a marabout kidnapped us, the first thing they would do is to accuse us, the Westerners, of our selfishness: the urge to want to conquer the whole world; our doggedness when it comes to asserting our interests; as well as our lack of generosity. The marabout would also hold us against the fact that we always put our self in the foreground and perceive our relationship with the other only as rivalry and competition. We suffer from our puffed up ego and the lack of we, the collective.
In Africa, on the other hand, one suffers from an oversized we: the clan, the tribe, the under-us are very pronounced there and stand in contrast to an I that wants to flourish but cannot flourish. Africa needs Cartesianism. Descartes was the philosopher who said: I think therefore I am. The first truth is the person who becomes conscious of himself. And perhaps in a discussion with a person from the West, the marabout would finally recognize that our individualism also has advantages. But he's also our weakness. And our greatest weakness is the inability to create collectives, which can also be an advantage - everything is relative.
Lean cord: Everything is relative and Africa is the benchmark. At least for Vincent Cespedes. The philosopher calls the culture of Black Africa the most important source of his thought and even gives geopolitical reasons for this.
Cespedes: Looking towards the year 2050, we expect geopolitical forces that will encompass billions of people. And if we look at the surface of the globe like the peel of a peeled orange, we can see North and South America as a carving, China, Russia and the Asian bloc form another - and we Europeans, together with Africa, are on the last carving. So, of necessity, we will have to build a partnership with Africa. But before this partnership can be carried out politically, it must be humanely built. Because everything that the West has lost can be rediscovered in Africa: It can learn what it means to build up collectives. He finds the recipe of the magic potion with which he can attain a we.
Conversely, it could be a therapy for Africans to look to Europe and to recognize the power of a strong ego that has brought about the applied reason and with it all the great inventions of conventional medicine, surgery and cutting-edge research in dealing with matter, energy , the atom.
Lean cord: Vincent Cespedes lives in the 10th arrondissement, in the north of Paris, which is heavily influenced by immigrants from West Africa. France maintains a close, almost intimate relationship with its former colonies. However, it is not always guided by mutual interests. The view of the now not so young states is still post-colonialist and also always paternalistic: Africa as an object of aid, more political, economic and social. And tutoring through open interference in his internal circumstances. The previous and classic development policy with the one-sided determination of the necessities by the helpers is inevitably always a cultural hegemonic policy. What starting point for a real dialogue that affects and touches both sides equally could there be instead? The philosopher Vincent Cespedes:
Different views on luck
Cespedes: The biggest difference between the philosophy of Africa and that of the West is not something abstract, but something very concrete: it is happiness. The biggest reproach that all Africans, whether philosophers or ordinary people, make us is that we are not happy. In Africa happiness is a team sport, a collective sport and not individual consumption.
For Africans, happiness is the starting point of being human. A child is happy first of all.
When considering happiness as the starting point of life, an important ethical and moral question arises: What do I make happiness out of this basic equipment? Where do I put all my energy? What do I do with it? For me that is the real ethical question. It arises from a completely different approach than the western one, which is: What do I have to do to be happy at all? Behind this is the idea of happiness as a reward. The pursuit of happiness is even written into the US Constitution. One should pursue happiness, pursue it, it is always ahead of us, is always one step ahead, is not just there. So we see great optimism even where there is misery and, on the other hand, pessimism, or at least a vision of life as a time of hard effort endured in the hope of eventually being rewarded for it.
Lean cord: Happiness and the search for it should serve as a starting point for a dialogue about common interests between cultures as different as Western and Black African. But what does Africa have to offer us individualized people in the West in terms of its specific design? We already have the philosophical and practical achievements of another continent at our disposal for incorporation into the canon of techniques for coping with personal life.
We like to use Asian cultures. Without too much difficulty, we integrate yoga or meditation smoothly into our lives in order to better pursue goals in our professional or private life. Are there also practices from Africa that we can incorporate and apply into our everyday life with this ease?
Laughter as a social function
Cespedes: We can use a number of things. First of all there is laughter. In Africa, laughter has a very interesting social function. It relaxes relationships, and Africans actually laugh a lot more than we do. This is not one of those colonial caricatures. There is laughter everywhere, even in political negotiations. You can even laugh at work. With us, things are more complicated. Laughter is something like a mockery of the urgencies and demands of the real. Remember that you have little on earth and we should cultivate that kind of laughter again.
Then there's something really great about Africa: it's the palaver. Palaver is the art of discussing with a certain rhetoric; it is an oral art, i.e. connected to the body. It is not based on reflection, on written form and institutions, in short: the brain, but on orality. And at the end of a discussion everyone has to agree, everyone. Not 51 percent, but 100 percent. A palaver can take weeks or months, and in the end everyone has to say: We all made the decision with 100 percent unanimity. That would be something we could discover: the palaver, which is the basis of philosophy, because, as I understand it, philosophy is essentially African.
When Africans discuss a topic orally, then of course there are also emotions involved. This does not correspond to the western idea of philosophy, that is, a philosophy without a body. Kant is the great model for this kind of philosophizing. In Africa, on the other hand, there is a philosophy of life force. An energy circulates between me and you, a laugh can transmit it or a nice idea arises from this energy flow. And when I have a new idea, it triggers joy in me, because having an idea makes me happy. Kant also had many emotions in this sense, but he had hidden them.
Lean cord: Laughter and palaver - both cultural techniques are available and could be included in the western canon of life-coping strategies. And takeover lists of such practices should be at the beginning of a dialogue between cultures. But when two such different views of life as the African and the Western meet, the differences are first of all emphasized.
And if you finally look at the societal, social and economic reality in large parts of Africa, the practical consequences of the ethics of the we are not exactly obvious. Regardless of all concerns about Africa's reality, which he - without illusions - harbored: Vincent Cespedes does not join these doubters, perhaps also because he can experience the practical consequences of this ethic in his everyday life.
Palaver about the rules
Cespedes: I have one child with a woman from Mali who already has five children with an African. The children are French, but grew up culturally very African. The food is good, traditional food, and there are set rules in the family. These rules are all discussed. Yes, you can also discuss rules with a five-year-old. But once you have agreed, these rules are no longer up for discussion. With us, on the other hand, children try to use all their nerve potential or their charm in order to break the rules once they have been set. But there is first a palaver, everything is discussed, everyone has to open up to the requests of the others, but once the rules have been laid down, things have to go on, changes and renegotiations are no longer allowed. Once agreed, we respect these rules, because they are not dogmas, on the contrary, they stem from a collective creation, so we respect them.
Lean cord: What is the result of making a list of cultural takeover offers, personal experience and a solid philosophical education? According to academic categories, Vincent Cespedes' thinking is described as a variety of vitalism preceded by a neo: neo-vitalism.
In his lectures, which he gives in companies or at conferences, Vincent Cespedes emphasizes the advantages of the African concepts, also for our everyday processes and structures.
Although we probably perceive the palaver as a waste of time. So does time have a special African dimension that we don't have at first?
Time as a playful force
Cespedes: People in the West have a clock, Africans have time. That's an African saying. The relationship with time has a playful power there, it is almost an artistic relationship, almost without the thought of impermanence. This is because the body is not taboo. It is part of our equipment, part of life, so temporality has to bow to its influence. So it is the other way around: the body is not ephemeral, but time is something physical. In this way, transience can be dealt with without any worries. We could use that.
The companies that are really innovative do not achieve this through stress, but through an African relationship with the world, in which time becomes a tool and is considered a necessary period of maturity. These times are important, and it is necessary for companies to recognize that there is time capital. Time can be used very differently and then different forms of temporality can be generated, and one can evade the somewhat one-sided notion of a linear temporality.
In Africa there is a notion that everything is subject to continuous creation. Thus, everything that is currently being undertaken also shapes the time in which it is undertaken. And the form of time depends on what is going on in a community as an undertaking. This is a more poetic conception of time in the sense of Greek poetics as an act of creating reality: We create time. Africans are much more at home in relativity than we are. Time is not only relative, but also a creation. This is not a cyclical time, not a cycle of the eternal return of the same thing. It is the time that the grain will be allowed to grow. In terms of time, you can never really miss anything. There is no time lost or wasted. I think Africa can teach us wonderful things in this regard.
Lean cord: The savage and the modern man - the French anthropologist Claude Levy-Strauss had already called 60 years ago in his travel study "Sad Tropics" to read Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his confrontation of the pre-revolutionary society of the ancien régime with the counter-image of the noble savage : A modernized society has to measure itself against an idealized original condition if it wants to understand its present condition. The knowledge of an original model is therefore a necessity even if the state assumed in it has never existed and could never exist.
Vincent Cespedes also knows that Africa cannot unreservedly serve as such an ideal counterworld. Africa has a living culture, in which a number of beliefs are lived that will certainly not appear on the list of cultural practices to be adopted. One of the things that would prevent cultural appropriation anyway is animism, i.e. the belief - or better: the knowledge - that nature is alive and that its forces constantly interact with us, humans.
Because that means that everything that happens has to have a purpose, a meaning, and nothing happens by chance. A modern, western person who can absolutely accept that something happens to him by pure chance would make life very difficult if he had to interpret and understand every little everyday occurrence for its meaning.
Strong ancestor worship
Cespedes: There is something that is very interesting and something that is much more complex than animistic thinking.This way of thinking has already declined sharply because of religion and Islamization, especially in West Africa. But what still dominates the mind unrestrictedly is the worship of ancestors, manism, the spirit cult around the deceased. He ensures that we stay connected to the past through everyone who preceded us. This is only found in this intensive form in Africa. It is not a conventional ancestral cult in which I express my respect for the ancestors with ritual acts, no: I am in direct contact with a life that preceded me, as if these ancestors had passed on an amount of energy to me. And it also corresponds somewhat to the Hegelian idea of a progressive history. Only in Africa one does not look for an abstract world spirit, but rather establishes a direct connection to the ancestors by accepting the transmission of energies.
But now it gets complex, because there is an extremely superstitious soul involved. And in this respect it would be good if the Africans looked at people from the west who had become disbelievers. But it's just like that: there is a strong superstition among the African population. Whenever something negative happens, i.e. illness, accident or other problems, a cause is sought and then usually invented. Causes that are no longer - as in animism - based on forces of nature, but in witchcraft. We Westerners hardly get to see it, because the Africans are a little ashamed of it and hide these things from us, also because they consider us incapable of being able to understand it at all. One thing remains between them, and one is faced with a people totally caught up in their superstitions.
Lean cord: Incomprehensible Africa - after all, is it still the case that both cultures, the African and the Western, cannot understand each other? There actually seems to be a lot in African thought that cannot be inferred by the Western conception of reason, which now, conversely, leads in Africa to the view that Africans will never be considered rational by the standards of Europeans anyway.
African thinking, it is said then, moves outside of Western rationality. But there is also a specifically African reason which, in turn, a Western mind cannot open up. If so, what are the limits of mutual understanding?
Cespedes: No, I don't think there is an independent black, negroid reason and on the other hand a white reason. Reason is human and universal.
There are different cultures and traditions and certainly also worldviews, yes, but if we adopt all the starting conditions of these worldviews as our own, we are able to understand each of them. I don't think there is any African sanity that a European cannot grasp just because they don't have black skin or an African mother or father. Knowing the base, we understand why this or that mind is moving in this or that direction. No problem.
Lean cord: A walk through the north of Paris is almost like a trip to Africa. And Vincent Cespedes, who as a philosopher always thinks practically, calls for a compulsory school trip to Africa for European students. To recognize how things are done elsewhere, to learn to put your own problems into perspective and to have the courage to solve them, but also to discover the other and to recognize yourself in this other.
Salvation is the other, that is the meaning of my philosophy, says Vincent Cespedes at last, which also applies when this other is just a fictional marabout who, for the purpose of gaining knowledge, is supposed to conjure up the only spirit whose existence modern man applies without restriction lets: himself.
Cespedes: Philosophy is always about recognizing yourself: "Gnotis seauton" in Greek, and recognizing yourself also always means identifying the point up to which one can fragment oneself and then between the separated elements the flowing and Perceiving moving things.
So what does "maraboutier" mean? It shows that the picture we make of ourselves always corresponds to the picture we believe comes close to what our counterpart assumes is the picture we have of ourselves in our heads . In short: the imagination is not free in relation to the idea of ourselves, it is determined from outside. And to make yourself aware that the heteronomy continues into our own imagination is the first step towards freedom and brotherhood.
// Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own. !!
Vincent Cespedes is a French philosopher, composer and pianist, author of numerous essays on various subjects and a novel on racial prejudice and Pan-Africanism. Cespedes lectures worldwide. Since 2008 he has been the director in charge of the "Philosopher" book series at Éditions Larousse.
Michael Lean Cord writes for radio and newspapers, lived in Prague and Paris, reported for many years from Asia and now lives in Göttingen and Strasbourg.
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