Port Elizabeth Weather Fine


As I pored over the World Banks’s somewhat self congratulatory World Development Report 1996, entitled From Plan to Market,I started to feel overwhelmed by the stench of hypocrisy. It was as if the very page gave off noxious fumes and before I succumbed to their mind-numbing effect, I reached to my book shelf for an antidote. It was as if Arthur Koestler’s “Library Angel” was present in my room.as I soon discovered I was clutching Steve Biko‘s I Write What I Like. The page opened at the passage where he describes how African society is community-based and [hu]man centred: “most things were owned by the group, for instance there was no such things as individual land ownership.” He describes how the commons is central to the African way of life before discussing some of the consequences of this.

He contrasts the problem-solving approach of the westerner with the situation-experiencing approach of the African. He then quotes Kenneth Kaunda’s characterising of western scientific approach as based on a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural, the rational and the non-rational with the supernatural and non-rational being dismissed as superstition. Kaunda then compares this to African people who he regards as pre-scientific in that they experience a situation rather than face a problem.

Biko then explains that although he had a firm commitment to scientific experimentation, yet he was also firmly committed to the more holistic approach embedded in the African personality, its humanistic approach to dealing with issues and a view of spirituality rooted daily life and a respect for the ancestors.

I think Biko’s conception is useful as long as we don’t essentialise the notion of Western and African. For several hundred years –  since the rise of capitalism basically – European culture has been dominated by this fractured dualistic consciousness which has proved – but only in certain respects- to be very successful. This blindness to the bigger picture and a process focuses on the hyper-development of the individual has fostered an expansive predatory culture which now has taken over the whole world. Nevertheless despite the domination of this view, European culture has produced a steady stream of countervailing voices, even if these have generally been squeezed out to the margins.

One of those voices has been that of James Lovelock, whose Gaia hypothesis offered an understanding of the world as an all encompassing organism incorporating both living and non-living material. While Lynn Margulis has stepped back from an animist interpretation of this, seeing Gaia more as “an emergent property of interaction among organisms” than an organism. However Stephan Harding is ready to embrace animism, and wants to encourage people to see stones and rocks as being sentinent, and suggests that such a psychological shift is necessary if the mass of people are to change their behaviour in a fashion to stop the climate system from collapsing. He calls for a science where qualities are just as important as qualities, where his students can combine reason with feeling, sensation and intuition.

From there different perspectives, both Biko and Harding wish to retain the evidenced-based approach of science but recast it the context of a holistic or monist (i.e. based around looking at the whole system) way of working. This is an important aspect of commoning, in that we need to consider not just the community as a collection of people, but as an interacting whole which includes the environment. This is the antithesis of Garrett Hardin which uses economic reductionism to reduce human beings to isolated individuals indifferent to the degradation of their surroundings.


2 Responses to “Port Elizabeth Weather Fine”

  1. celcocourier1 Says:

    I am always enthusiastic when reading your articles because it make sense and demonstrate the commons and sustainability in practical life and the awareness of our contribution without realising it. keep it up Author

  2. victoriaevbuomwan Says:


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