Neutralizing Cultural Myths

Molefi Kete AsanteDe-Westernizing Communication: Strategies for Neutralizing Cultural Myths
By Molefi Kete Asante (2011) (Edited)

It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that neutralizing principal stereotypes and myths often held by the Western World of African and Asian cultures is an effective way to create normal human communication. It is the position of the author that abnormal communication that often goes for effective communication is a linear, rational, militaristic approach to human relations that does not allow ambiguity and non-linearity. In fact, it seeks success that serves as a code for conquest. By neutralizing this tendency for asserting stereotypes the communicator can transform communication into a mutual human relationship.

My contention is that the Western construct of communication deeply embeds the myths of recent Western culture that must necessarily undermine common humanity in its projection of a particularistic ethos. I am quick to say that it may not be the only culture that does this, but since it is predominate in the teaching and writing about communication, then I will concentrate on it. In my judgment the western construction of knowledge as articulated by the early Greek thinkers, those upon whom so much of the Western intellectual structure rely, a cultural hierarchy of knowledge that seeks to promote its narcissism as universal. Nevertheless, the supporting structure for this Greek notion of intellectual history and philosophical tradition, is buttressed by more common folk myths articulated in less formal ways and are characterized by their widespread acceptance in the actions and behaviors of Europeans.

On one hand it is possible to speak of the imperial and expansive nature of European colonialism in terms of conquest, warlust and religious zeal. On the other hand, one can discover something more sinister in the ideology of the superiority and inferiority of races first promulgated by German scholars. This modern racial idea, to be fair, has to be disconnected from the ancient Greeks who quite readily admitted their indebtedness to Africa, Persia, and India.

The Myths of ‘Westernity’

As the 16th century was the Portuguese century, the 17th century was the Spanish and Dutch century, the18th century was the French century, the 19th century was the British and German century, the 20th century was the American. We expect that the 21st will be China, India, Brazil, or Russia, we have no way of really knowing at this moment. But the combination of the European centuries gives us about four to five hundred years of solid European domination of intellectual concepts and philosophical ideas.

Africa and Asia were subsumed under various headings of the European hierarchy. If a war between the European powers occurred it was called a World War and the Asians and Africans found their way on the side of one European power or the other. There was this sense of assertiveness about European culture that advanced with Europe’s trade, religious, and military forces.

The myths of the society are often found in the habits of the people.

  • Individualism is the highest form of human expression

The superstructure of the Western world elevates the individual over the society and therefore enshrines an ethic of one against others in a situation of existential tension. Governments and institutions of the West propagate the assertion of the individual as unique even without the group. [This is in direct contrast to the reality of those who want to claim the promised ‘individuality’ outside of an allowed group, getting pulled back or ousted. Any individual to persist outside (sometimes even inside) of the group is labeled “a loner”, hardly a title of honor. TMB]

In an African context, it is clear that a person gains his or her meaning in the midst of community, no one exists alone, apart from community and ancestors; indeed, the texture to be a human being is given in the midst of community.

  • The mastery over nature makes you more advanced

The conquest of nature became a driving force of Europe as a results of cultural change during their awakening, ‘renaissance’. This is a particular history, condition, and circumstances. Western philosophers universalized this idea by framing it in the concept of universal history. It defined European goals of conquest as the necessary driving forces of history, and interpreted other people as backwards or primitive. If a society lives in harmony with nature, seeing the earth as sacred enough to protect and preserve, that society is often considered in a negative manner in the West. Material conquest was deemed the only coin of progress. A mindset in opposition to nature where the individual seeks to dominate nature often bleeds into a similar ideology in regards to other human beings. Conquest is conquest, whether you are talking about persuasive tactics or martial tactics.

  • Philosophy is the contribution of Europeans

The Greeks, according to the European scholars of the last four to five hundred years were responsible for creating philosophy. Rhetoric, if it is to follow the best examples of Greek thinking, could escape its own fate as bombast if it crowned itself with reason and became a branch of philosophy. This lack of knowledge sits at the very entrance to the chamber of myths in the West.

Let me put it in as stark terms as possible by referring to a timeline of major civilizations:

1. Writing originates in Africa, showing in Kemet around 3400 BCE.
2. Menes unites Kemet around 3200 BCE
3. Imhotep builds pyramid around 2900 BCE
4. Ptahhotep writes the first book found in Kemet around 2900 BCE
5. Hsia starts around 2000 BCE; Shang 1523 BCE; Chou 1027 BCE
6. Homer, Greek poet, at the earliest after 800 BCE

So we do not even have a Greek philosopher in 800 BCE ; we only get one in 600 BCE , and his name is Thales. The second Greek philosopher is Pythagoras, who was 19 years of age when he met the old man Thales.

By the time of the first Greek philosophers there had been several major African philosophers who are recorded in my book, Egyptian Philosophers. These were thinkers with names such as Ptahhotep, Duauf, Merikare, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, and Akhenaten.

By the time of Homer, the Chinese had already produced the Yi Jing, around 1050 BCE (Book of Changes) and would surpass the Greeks in productivity after the Analects of Kong fu-zi.

The Western scholars embraced philosophy and wrapped themselves in it as a signifier that they held onto reason. They saw philosophy as the most learned of all sciences. They spoke of philosophy only in the context of European thinking and writing. Other people could have thoughts, thinking, wisdom literature, traditions, legends, religions, cosmogonies, and stories, but only Europeans could possess and advance philosophy, the science of reason.

This was the dominant thinking of the Europeans during the last five hundred years. This was the ideology that fueled the notion of racial superiority and helped spark imperialism making it an ideology of the white man’s burden to civilize the rest of the world.

The word in English that we call “philosophy” is not of Greek origin. The progressive compound of dependence is philo “who love” tó sophón science wisdom, therefore we can say philosophia is the love of wisdom or the love of wisdom. This could apply to loving research, poetry, science or eloquence. The word “philosophy” is not of Greek origin, and we cannot find it in any dictionary of Indo-European etymology.

If philosophy has no Greek origin, then how could the Greeks have been the first to discover philosophy? This is the fundamental myth in the Western construction of knowledge. It has been the scaffolding that has supported the ideology of white racial domination and the doctrine of white hegemony; this idea of philosophy being the most advanced science and whites being the only ones who have created this “best” science constructed an aura of Western superiority.

What are the consequences of this problem of philosophy’s origin? Of course, now that the scaffolding is shown to be unstable, we must turn our attention to constructing a more equitable foundation for human communication. The foundation is false and hence the conclusions about human life, behavior, and knowledge must be reevaluated.

Asante, Molefi Kete (2008) An Afrocentric Manifesto. Cambridge: Polity
Obenga, Theophile (1992) Ancient Egypt and Black Africa. London: Karnak House.

Source: http://www.asante. net



2 comments on “Neutralizing Cultural Myths

  1. I have his book “As I Run Toward Afrika” because of it’s centered in the region in which I was born,but never read it. Maybe I should go ahead and read it.

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