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A salad bowl of intellectual garbage (6)

Douglas Anele
AS already     indicated,   although there are some general characteristics of human beings, human nature, as it is manifested in concrete behaviour, is extremely complex and flexible.

The best remedy for the invalid narrow conception of “nature” and “natural” as it relates to human conduct is thorough acquaintance with disciplines such as anthropology, history, sociology and psychology.

It would be extremely difficult to find a man or a woman who does not have an unjustifiable belief about women, and, therefore, about men also.

Bachelors and married men, when they generalize about women, base their judgment mainly on their experiences with girlfriends and wives respectively and on the status of women as stated in various scriptures.

The converse applies to women when they are gossiping about men. In Western societies, dominated by Judeo-Christian weltanschuung, women were considered to be the weaker vessel, the fairer sex, and inferior to men.

It was only until recently, thanks to the efforts of feminists – and some enlightened men – that women began to enjoy some of the rights hitherto denied them by patriarchal communities in the West. In some traditional African societies, the status of women was better than what obtained in the West during the same period, that is, before the feminist revolt in Europe and North America.

Sometime ago, the false notion that women by “nature” are more virtuous than men was used to keep them out of politics. Part of the ploy is the belief that politics is a dirty game and, as such, should be avoided by women so that they would remain uncorrupted.

But feminists inverted the argument by pointing out that the superior virtue of women would ennoble politics if they are allowed to participate in it. Women usually pride themselves as the sensible sex that does a lot of damage-control for men.

As far as I am concerned, all generalizations about women – and men – are dubious, and arise from paucity of experience. Moreover, in as much as I concede that, if a man is the breadwinner in the home and has shown superior intellectual and moral prowess over his wife ( or lover), he should provide leadership for his family, I also believe that if these qualities are found in the woman instead, then the man should, with dignity, concede leadership to her.

After all, leadership is not about muscles  or physical strength or gender; it is, fundamentally, a thing of the mind.

Therefore, the uncritical acceptance of the idea of men’s superiority over women, deriving mainly from the Abrahamic religions, is unwarranted.

Generalizations about ethnic or national characteristics are just as widespread and fallacious as generalizations about women. The German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, believed that the Germans represented the highest development of the Absolute as at the time he wrote.

The Jews, apart from being regarded as the chosen race by the Jews themselves and most Christians, are reputed to be industrious, thrifty and cunning.

Hitler turned the matter on its head, and regarded them as loathsome, money-minded and devious. In Nigeria, the Igbo are believed to be hardworking, materialistic and gregarious, whilst the Yorubas are regarded by many as cowardly, diplomatic and somewhat carefree in their marital relationships.

The stereotype about the average northerner is that he or she is illiterate, honest, irascible and servile. All these generalizations are false, known to be so by those that have interacted with people from the ethnic nationalities mentioned above.

The fact of the matter is that the diverse human traits are distributed randomly across various peoples of the world, which implies that no ethnic nationality or nation has a monopoly of any human attribute or attributes.

This is the major reason why one should be careful in inferring that x must have a particular attribute because members of the ethnic group or country to which x belongs have that very attribute.

It is obviously impossible to discuss exhaustively all the foolish beliefs entertained by people from time to time. Thus, it is appropriate at this point to consider ways of avoiding silly errors and intellectual garbage.

To begin with, if an issue is one that can be settled by observation, it is better for one to make the observation by oneself. For example, Aristotle would have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men by simply counting the teeth of his wife and those of any of his grown male children.

He did not do this because he believed that he knew. Now, thinking that you know something when in fact you do not is a serious mistake, and all of us make this mistake more than we are willing to accept.

If one has not directly observed something, it is wrong to make dogmatic assertions about that very thing.

We are passionate about one thing or another, especially about religious doctrines. But by making some effort, we can become conscious of our biases.

For instance, if a view contrary to your opinion makes you angry, that is an indication that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for holding your opinion.

If someone asserts that two multiplied by two is six, or that Nigeria is bigger than West Africa, you feel pity rather than anger towards the holder of these false beliefs, unless your knowledge of arithmetic and geography is so limited that his opinion threatens your own contrary conviction.

I am persuaded that the most savage disputes involve matters as to which there is no solid evidence either way.

This is why in theology and political ideology persecution is usually employed to force unbelievers to accept opinions which otherwise they would not accept.


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