Posts Tagged ‘Thabo Mbeki’

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.

Former South African MP Andrew Feinstein on Global Arms Trade

January 2, 2016

I received this fascinating comment from Michelle Thomasson on my last post, in which I put up a meme about how the banks, businesses and governments profit from war at the expense of the people, who actually have to live, fight and die through them. She writes

In November I helped host a discussion at the House of Commons on the Ethics (!!) of the UK Arms Trade, one of the speakers was Andrew Feinstein a politician in South Africa (he worked against apartheid), but in the last 10 years has undertaken very brave research re the shadow world of the arms trade, the information he relates in this short clip is hair-raising: https://youtu.be/2F6J4Xvdkuo

For a fuller speech from him and more on the hidden dynamics within politics, here is an extended speech from Andrew a couple of weeks later at Medact:

These clips are grim, but immensely informatiove in giving an overview into how immensely profitable, pernicious and massively corrupt the global arms trade is, and how that corruption infects government at the highest possible levels. The first clip is audio only, but still well worth listening to. The second is rather long at 27 minutes, and has video. They both cover much the same ground, though the second adds a few more details, including Feinstein’s own experience as a South African politician being thrown out of government because of his opposition to a massively corrupt arms deal cut by Thabo Mbeki.

Feinstein is South African, Jewish and a former ANC politician, serving his country in its parliament for seven years. After he was forced out of government by his country’s president, he started making a documentary, The Shadow World, which is both a book and a film, on the global arms trade. He states in these clips that Europe is experiencing its highest level of militarism in peacetime for seven years. This militarism is supported by the global arms trade. The global trade in arms is worth $1.5 trillion. The small arms trade is smaller and less profitable, but worth a whopping $8.5 billion. Nevertheless, it is responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of violent deaths through the world. The United States is the leader in this trade by a massive margin. Its arms sales make up as much as the rest of the world combined. Other leading countries involved in the trade are Germany, Britain, Japan and a number of others. As many of these countries are on the UN security council, there is a general unwillingness and inability to hold the arms trade to account. And the main customer for British weapons is Saudi Arabia, despite that country’s appalling lack of human rights.

Feinstein goes on to state that arm dealing operates on a continuum between the legal to the illegal. In practice, all arms deals involve some kind of illegality. He describes his meeting with the 77 year old man, whose fellow arms dealers described as ‘the most dangerous man alive’. After failing to track him down, he eventually found him on Facebook. This man was an unreconstructed Nazi, who began his career aged 18 in an office run by a former Nazi officer in post-War Germany. At one point the man told Feinstein to his face that many of the world’s problems would have been solved, ‘if Hitler had been able to continue his work’. Feinstein states that he didn’t tell him that as well as being Jewish, his mother was a holocaust survivor.

Feinstein asked the dealer if his Nazi views ever presented a problem in this business. The man looked at him as if he was stupid, and pulled out from his wallet a stack of cards showing that he was an official in the American Department of Defense and in USAID, the American aid agency, for Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Liberia, amongst other nations. He also stated that UN arms embargoes were good for business. He describes them as practically dollar signs, as that means the dealers can charge more.

By and large the arms dealers operate above the law. The trade comprises 40% of all corruption cases worldwide, and 50% of American corruption cases. This corruption is not incidental, but built into the trade’s very structure. It is responsible for the erosion of democracy and state’s internal stability, as well as damaging to their citizens’ health, prosperity and wellbeing. The dealers owe their massive power to the revolving door between them, the arms manufacturers, government and the civil service. This door is so fast, that its changes are impossible to track. One of Feinstein’s media colleagues tried in the US, and gave up after 18 months. And just to show how seriously the Land of the Free treats peaceful negotiation compared to the trade, there are less US diplomats across the globe than personnel on a single US aircraft carrier.

The trade is critical in securing party funding. Hence it operates in a parallel legal universe. Of the 502 violations of UN arms trading laws, only two have resulted in any legal consequences. One of these was the massive al-Yamamah arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia, negotiated by Thatcher, which earned her and her disgusting progeny, Mark, a nice little kickback. Mark Thatcher, aka ‘Thickie Mork’, got his own private jet, painted in whatever colour or design the little so-and-so wanted. This was being paid for by the British taxpayer until 2007. Other notorious deals included Iran/Contra, in which the Americans supplied arms to the Islamic Revolutionary Regime in Tehran, and the Contras in Nicaragua. One of the worst aspects of the arms trade is that the weapons often end up in the wrong hands, or turned against the very western countries which sold them. For example, when America started bombing Gadaffi’s Libya in the last stages of the war, the gun installations they attacked were those they had previously sold them. And immediately after the revolutions in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, Dave Cameron was in the region, including Egypt, trying to sell the new governments arms.

Feinstein also describes the massive arms deal that saw him forced out of office. He was head of the oversight committee when Mbeki struck an arms deal worth $10 billion, as well as $300 million in bribes. He was thrown out, and the two anti-corruption agencies in South Africa closed down because he refused to drop the investigation into the deal. This was an arms deal encouraged by Tony Blair. Jacob Zuma, Mbeki’s successor, was also involved, but was let off. The judge who did so was appointed to the high court two weeks later.

Feinstein includes in the final part of his talk a discussion of how arms dealing harms countries’ medical provision for their peoples. At the same time Mbeki was making his deal, he announced that there was no money for the retroviral drugs to treat those suffering from HIV. As a result, 365,000 South Africans died of AIDS in five years, and tens of thousands of babies were unnecessarily born HIV positive. Feinstein concluded his speech by stating that we needed to work to close down the trade’s massive corruption, and make sure that what remained of it was highly regulated.

Watch and listen to his talk yourself, and be informed about how vile and pernicious the trade is. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, also has numerous articles on the arms trade and Iran/Contra, as well as criticism of Tony Blair.