Posts Tagged ‘Shamans’

Thunderfoot Attacks Black South African Student Who Claims Western Science Is ‘Racist’

October 27, 2020

Thunderfoot is another YouTube personality like Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, whose views I categorically don’t share. He’s a militant atheist of the same stripe as Richard Dawkins. He’s a scientist, who shares Peter Atkins’ view that science can explain everything and leaves no room for religion or mysticism. He’s also very right wing, sneering at SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and attacking feminism. So he’s also like Sargon on that score. But in this video, he does make valid points and does an important job of defending science against the glib accusation that it’s racist.

Thunderfoot put up this video in 2016 and it seems to be his response to a video circulating of part of a student debate at the University of Cape Town. The speaker in this video, clips of which Thunderfoot uses in his, is a Black female student who argues that western science is racist and colonialist. It arose in the context of western modernity and excludes indigenous African beliefs, and if she had her way, it would be ‘scratched out’. One of the African beliefs it excludes is the fact, as she sees it, that sangomas – African shamans – can call lightning down to strike people. She challenges her debating opponent to decolonise their mind and explain scientifically how the sangoma is able to do that. Her interlocutor is not impressed, and laughs out loud at this assertion, which gets a sharp response from the moderator who claims that the debate is supposed to be a circle of respect and they should apologise or leave. The anti-science student states that western science is totalizing, urges her opponent to decolonize their mind, and calls for an African science. She also rejects gravity because Isaac Newton sat on a tree and saw an apple fall.

Thunderfoot answers these assertions by pointing out, quite rightly, that science is about forming models of reality with ‘predictive utility’. It is the ability of scientific model to make useful predictions which shows that the model is an accurate description of reality. Science’s discoveries are true for everyone, regardless of whether they are male or female, Black or White. He shows a clip of militant atheist Richard Dawkins talking to another group of students, and explaining that the proof that science works is that planes and rockets fly. The equations and scientific models describing them have to, otherwise they don’t. Dawkins is another personality, whose views I don’t share, and this blog was started partly to refute his atheist polemics. But the quote from Dawkins is absolutely right. Thunderfoot goes on to say that if African shamans really could call lightning down on people, then surely someone would have used it for military purposes. And to demonstrate, he shows a clip of Thor getting hit with a lightning bolt from an Avengers movie.

As for African science, he then hands over to another YouTuber, who talks about an attempted scam in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A women claimed that she had a rock which produced refined diesel oil, and called on the government to see for themselves. Which they did. If the woman’s claim was genuine, then Zimbabwe would be entirely self-sufficient in diesel. However, such hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the rock had a hole bored into it from which diesel was being pumped.

The video goes on to make the point that such ‘science denialism’ is dangerous by pointing to the claim of the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that HIV didn’t cause AIDS. He tried to stop people using the retroviral drugs used to treat HIV in favour of herbal cures that didn’t work. As a result, 300,000 people may have lost their lives to the disease.

Thunderfoot concludes that this is the situation this student would like to create: an African science which rejects gravity, asserts shamans can strike people with lightning, and in which hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily from AIDS. Here’s the video.

Racism and the Rejection of Conventional Science

Thunderfoot is right in that one current view in the philosophy of science is that science is about forming models of reality, which can make predictions. This is the view I hold. He is also correct in that science’s findings are valid regardless of where they are made and who makes them. And I’d also argue that, rather than science, it is this young Black woman, who is racist. She rejects science on the racist grounds that it was created by White Europeans. This is also the genetic fallacy, the logical mistake that a statement must be wrong because of the nature of the person who makes it. The Nazis, for example, made the same mistake when they rejected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because Einstein was Jewish. They also believed that science should reflect racial identity, and so sacked Jewish mathematicians and scientists in an attempt to create a racially pure ‘Aryan’ science.

Science and the Paranormal

I don’t believe, however, that science automatically excludes the supernatural. There are very many scientists, who are people of faith. Although it’s very much a fringe science – some would say pseudoscience – there is the discipline of parapsychology, which is the scientific investigation of the paranormal. Organisations like the Society for Psychical Research and ASSAP have existed since the 19th century to carry out such investigations. Their members do include scientists and medical professionals. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for parapsychologists to investigate such alleged powers by indigenous shamans, just as they investigate appearances of ghosts, psychic powers and mediumship in the west. And if it could be demonstrably proved that such shamans had the powers they claim, then science would have to accommodate that, whether it could explain it or not.

On the other hand is the argument that science shouldn’t investigate the paranormal or supernatural, not because the paranormal doesn’t exist, but because it is outside the scope of scientific methodology to investigate it as different field altogether. Thus science can ignore the general question of whether tribal shamans are able to conjure up lightning bolts as outside its purview and more properly the subject of metaphysics or theology. In which case, it’s left up to the individual to decide for themselves whether these shamans are able to perform such miracles.

Muti Witchcraft and Murder

Thunderfoot and his fellow YouTuber are also right to point out the harm that bad and fraudulent science can do. And there are very serious issues surrounding the promotion of indigenous African magic. Years ago a South African anthropologist defended African muti at an academic conference here in Britain. Muti is a form of magic in which someone tries to gain success and good luck through acquiring amulets made of human body parts. These include the fingers and the genitals. It’s believed they are particularly powerful if they are cut off the victim while they’re still alive. There’s a whole black market in such body parts and amulets in South Africa, with prices varying according to the desired body party. Way back in 2004-5 the police found the remains of a human torso in the Thames. It had been wrapped in cloth of particular colours, and it was believed that it had belonged to a boy, who’d been killed as part of such a ritual.

Indigenous Beliefs and the Politics of Apartheid

Years ago the small press, sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, reviewed a book by the South African shaman Credo Mutwa. This was supposed to be full of ancient African spiritual wisdom. In fact it seems to have been a mixture of South African indigenous beliefs and western New Age ideas. The Magonians weren’t impressed. And one of the reasons they weren’t impressed was Mutwa himself and the political use of him and other African shamans by the apartheid government.

Before it fell, apartheid South Africa had a policy of ‘re-tribalisation’. This was the promotion of the separate identities and cultures of the various indigenous peoples over whom the White minority ruled. This included the promotion of traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. These peoples had intermarried and mixed to such an extent, that by the 1950s they had formed a Black working class. And it was to prevent that working class becoming united that the apartheid government promoted their cultural differences in a policy of divide and rule. Mutwa was allegedly part of that policy as a government stooge.

Attacks on Science and Maths for Racism Dangerous

I’ve put up several videos now from Sargon attacking the assertion that western education and in particular mathematics is racist and somehow oppressed Blacks. I’m putting up this video because it does the same for the assertion that western science is also racist.

Not only are science and maths not racist, it is also very definitely not racist to reject some forms of African magic. Killing and mutilating people for good luck is absolutely abhorrent and should be condemned and banned, and those who practise it punished, regardless of its status as an African tradition. At the same time it does need to be realised that the South African government did try to keep Black Africans down and powerless partly through the promotion of indigenous spiritual beliefs. It’s ironic that the young woman shown arguing against science does so in an apparent belief that its rejection will somehow be liberating and empowering for Black Africans. And Thunderfoot has a chuckle to himself about the irony in her arguing against science, while reaching for her ipad, one of its products.

Belief in the supernatural and in the alleged powers of indigenous shamans should be a matter of personal belief. Disbelieving in them doesn’t automatically make someone a racist bigot. But this young woman’s rejection of science is racist and potentially extremely dangerous, because it threatens to deprive Black South Africans like her of science’s undoubted benefits. Just like Mbeki’s rejection of the link between HIV and AIDS led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of desperately ill men, women and children.

Conclusion

What is particularly irritating is that this young woman and her fellow students are affluent and, as students, highly educated. If the woman was poor and uneducated, then her views would be understandable. But she isn’t. Instead, she uses the language and rhetoric of postmodernism and contemporary anti-colonialism. It does make you wonder about what is being taught in the world’s universities, arguments about academic freedom notwithstanding.

In the past, there has been racism in science. Eugenics and the hierarchy of races devised by 19th century anthropologists as well as the Nazis’ attempts to create an Aryan science are examples. But attacks on conventional science and mathematics as racist, based on no more than the fact that modern science and maths have their origins in contemporary western culture is also racist and destructive.

Glib attacks on science by people like the young student in the above video not only threaten its integrity, but will also harm the very people, who most stand to benefit. They should be thoroughly rejected.

Meme on the Poisoning of Navajo Land by Mining Corporations

February 10, 2016

The big environmental news in America over the past few weeks is the massive poisoning of the local water supply in Flint, Michigan. This has been going on for years, and the water is seriously contaminated with lead, even in the local hospitals. The authorities did absolutely nothing, and continued to ignore the problem despite coverage from the local press. After about a year, the story’s managed to get through to the national American media, and it’s became a major scandal.

This is another scandal involving the poisoning of a people’s water supply, but it’s one that hasn’t made the news yet. It’s the contamination of the water supply of the Navajo First Nation by abandoned uranium and coal mines. The meme states that 75 per cent of all abandoned uranium mines are on tribal lands, which might indicate that other Native American peoples are affected.

Now this is very much an American issue, but it’s also part of what’s happening globally. Way back in the 1980s the Telegraph over here was moaning about how environmentalists weren’t letting the uranium mining corporations dig out the fuel from Aboriginal tribal lands in Oz. I’ve got a feeling there’s still a scandal and controversy going on about it, which centres around proper payment for the Aboriginal owners and clean-up operations afterwards. I have a feeling – though I don’t know – that the same is being done to the Aboriginals Down Under. Their land is being trashed, and not cleaned up afterwards.

And I have a horrible feeling that some of those corporate vultures involved may be British, or will want to come to Britain to do the same thing to our Green and Pleasant Land. If they aren’t doing it already, thanks to Bliar and Cameron. One of the companies that poisoned another Amerindian people’s land decades ago certainly was. Way back in the 1980s the Hanson Trust was in the Sunday Express. It was being sued by the Sioux, because their cement works was polluting their reservation. And this didn’t surprise me at all.

Lord Hanson was an asset-stripper, who bought up other companies, only to strip them and sell them off at a profit, before going on to carve up the next one. He was the Thatcherite dream. And he did it to W.H. and H.O. Wills in Bristol. Wills were a booze and cigarettes combine. They had several tobacco factories in Bristol, one of which was a huge construction that was used as a location in the Tom Baker Dr Who story, ‘The Sunmakers’. They also owned Courage’s brewery in the centre of the city. These both went their separate ways when Hanson got hold of them.

And he also tried to get his mitts, Maxwell-like, on the company’s pension fund. However, he found the pensioners’ lawyers were too good for him, and ended up selling the company off a few years later. Although that kind of corporate theft is associated with Robert Maxwell’s looting of the Mirror pension fund, the legislation that allowed it was Tory. It was passed by one Margaret Thatcher. You could also tell how grotty the Hanson Trust was because they also launched a PR campaign on TV. This bent your ear about how many times the plastic chairs they made would go around the world, if you lined them up one by one. It ended with the slogan ‘A company from over here, doing rather well over there’. ‘Over there’ meaning America. Well, God help our American cousins. Ben Elton recognised what they were and sent them up as the archetypal nasty corporation in his stand-up tour, Motorvation.

It doesn’t matter what colour the ordinary man or woman’s skin is to these vultures, whether your White, Black, Asian, Amerindian, whatever – companies like the Hanson Trust just loot, pollute and move on. They’re everywhere, and we need to stand up to them, no matter where in the world they’re operating. Because if the do it to one of us, they’ll do it to all of us.

Navajo Water

If you want to see the original, it’s on the over 18 Tumblr site, 1000 Natural shocks at http://greybeard55.tumblr.com/image/138997619025.

Beyond the affect on the Navajo people’s own health, and the global politics of the situation, there’s also the issue of the destruction of the ancient heritage of the American people as a whole. The Navajo reservation contains some of the most stunning and beautiful scenery in the US. The sand paintings made by the tribal shamans during their healing ceremonies are highly regarded by art connoisseurs. And the area possesses some of the most enigmatic and fascinating indigenous American archaeology in the US. From the 12th to 14th centuries AD the area was the centre of several highly developed civilisations. They built brick fortress cities high up in caves in the canyon walls, and a system of irrigation canals. They also had a peculiar system of roads. These appear to have been cut straight through the landscape, like the Romans. They also made them double, so that there was a pair of roads running parallel to the same destination. No-one quite understands why, though it’s thought that there might be some ideological or religious reason for it. I also think that, like many of the other Native American civilisations in the South West, they had extensive trade contacts with Mexico and the great civilisations there, such as the Aztecs. But it’s another mystery how those trade systems operated. Mesoamerican goods and motifs appear in the remains of the peoples of the Southwestern US, but they don’t appear in the material record of the peoples in between. What was going on? Why not? How were these items traded, and why?

And the history of the area also bears witness to the devastation caused by climate change. Many of the civilisations in what is now the Navajo reservation vanished in the 14th century as drought finally dried up their water supplies, and they were forced to move out of the area. Their cities and crops were abandoned. Now there’s a lesson relevant to today, and the contemporary crisis surrounding climate change and global warming.

There are still many unanswered questions, and vital lessons to be learned from the Navajo and similar peoples. The poisoning of them, and the destruction of their land are an attack both on their people and civilisation, and that of the wider American people. And needless to say, they and the people of Flint, deserve better.