The LA Times had an article recently about Ghana’s Witchcraft camps, where women may spend their entire lives in detention centers (concentration camps, really) after being accused of “witchcraft.” Fair use quote:
Northern Ghana has six witch camps that have been in existence for more than 100 years, accommodating 800 accused witches — almost all of them women — and 500 relatives sent by families to take care of them.Families typically send a young relation, usually a granddaughter or great-granddaughter age 10 to 14, to look after the accused, cook, collect firewood and water, and clean.
The girls also become tainted by the witch camps, drop out of school and can’t go back to their families even after the death of the relation they are sent to care for. Some of these once-young women have been in the camp for 40 years.
“It’s an abuse of the rights of the children in the camps. It affects their rights to education, to play and live with their families,” Kwateng-Kluvitse said.
Any region where this sort of thing occurs is nothing but a failure. And will remain so until it is eradicated. This is why, for all the stories, upbeat, about the future of Africa being bright and shiny, the continent will remain a hell-hole, exporting only raw materials, and run by others (in the past, Europeans, now, the Chinese). But Africa’s failure is a lesson to the West: the utter degradation and powerlessness that comes from a belief in magic.
The BBC reports that child sacrifice in Uganda is a booming business, where the newly rich pay for ritual child murder to insure prosperity, or the success of construction projects.
Yes, it is true that witchcraft trials were fairly common in Europe. As late as the 1600’s. And that Salem had witchcraft trials in which many were hung … in 1692. The last person in America accused (and killed as a witch) was a woman in New York City. In 1798.
The modern world depends on rationality. On logic, reason, and science. All of which if embraced offer not just power, but awesome power. Power to make the ordinary man richer than the richest Pharaoh, and the richest man live like a god to the Ancients. Technology and science are almost, but not quite, at the level of comic books. With drones the size of insects, all networked together, operating autonomously, rovers on Mars, genetic modification to increase athletic ability already proven (in mice), and more. The humble Iphone gives the ordinary person a networked computer able to do things unimaginable in 1975. Like turn by turn directions SPOKEN and a computer that is able to recognize voice commands AND RESPOND. As if out of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
All that power, almost but not quite reaching that of Iron Man’s Tony Stark, comes with a price. Power always does. To reach that power, belief in magic, in witchcraft, cannot be allowed to exist. Rationality must crush the belief in the supernatural, and reason and logic must be allowed not just pride of place but the only place. The only thing left is a belief in God, but not one that provides supernatural miracles daily. Like a wind-up pagan idol. No, rather one that is consistent with logic and reason and science and technology.
Europeans from the Greeks onward struggled with logic and reason. The Gods were still given lip service to the most humanistic of Greeks: Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Human sacrifice was rare but did happen, providing plot points for famous tragedies. The Romans were much the same. Even the Christianization of Europe, which was long, bloody, and unsteady (in the 1200’s there were regular crusades against the pagans of the Eastern Baltic), belief in near-pagan figures, thinly Christianized gods made into saints, remained a regular feature of life up until the 19th Century. But belief in the supernatural was largely erased by the 19th Century and the power of technology.
It is a mistake to think that the Enlightenment simply washed away the old beliefs, either Christian or near-pagan. Most ordinary people did not sit around and read Rousseau or Voltaire. Rather, they saw for themselves how steam engines worked, and the power they had in pumping out mines, or moving things in the water, or on land on steel rails. They worked in factories and saw how things worked. The rapid urbanization and industrialization changed Europeans, forever, in making them technology oriented.
It did no good to sacrifice a chicken, or a child, and make predictions based on how the body flopped around. What mattered, was being good at welding. Or smelting steel. Or assembling firearms. Or drilling for oil. Or running a steamship. It mattered not if you believed in “death watch beetles” as Mark Twain described in “Huckleberry Finn.” If your steam engine had too much pressure, the boiler would blow up and you would die. All the superstition in the world, all the ritual, meant nothing to the equation of pressure and steam and fragile iron and steel boilers.
The Sioux and Comanche could Ghost Dance all they wished, it meant no difference to portable artillery and Gatling Guns. The power science and technology gave, when you gave yourself over to them, was obvious and immediate. Pursuit of this power changed ORDINARY Europeans and Americans in massive ways. Gone, was the belief in magic, in ritual, in superstition, save the most superficial level. Instead was the knowledge, not the belief but the knowing for revealed fact, that the world operated in predictable ways. Build up too much pressure, the boiler blows. Don’t pay attention to the time and the schedule, your train will run into another. Use the telegraph and you can send a message across the world. Who needs magic when can send instantly a message across an ocean or continent?
The power and rewards of science and technology are open to anyone. Japan, South Korea, and China have all to varying degrees adopted it. It is not hard to see. When the Black Fleet commanded by Perry showed up in Tokyo Bay, the old ways were over forever. The Japanese are still Japanese. But their belief in “fighting spirit” using the old weapons and ways was erased forever then.
Africa has failed to grasp power, in the way that Japan, South Korea, and China have not, because they are unable to do the things that science and technology demand. Abstract thinking, working by formulas, concrete materialism, basic mathematics, basic literacy, are all beyond most Africans. No matter how well educated, and smooth, and determined the elites in Africa have become, ordinary people matter. It is ordinary people, for the most part, that determine the destiny of nations and regions. Leaders may come and go, and strut upon the stage, but the ordinary men and women remain. In mass amounts, their behavior for good or bad, determines how their societies fare.
It is 2012. Africans have access to mobile phones, the internet, and know the outside world. They don’t live isolated lives in the bush, most Africans now live in cities. With radio, television, and newspapers backing up the internet and mobile phones. They know how Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese all live. They know what power is, and how to grab it. And they can’t. Because they lack the basic ability to read, to write, to do simple math.
The Americans, Europeans, and Japanese, of the late 19th Century, were for the overwhelming part, not performing abstract calculus. They were reading steam gauges and making sure pressure did not build up in boilers to dangerous levels. Still, accidents came. Because an operator was lazy, or careless, or distracted. But overwhelmingly, most of the time, steamships did not blow up. Nor did trains crash into each other, after standardized time and great effort to synchronize watches. Simple things like basic literacy, time zones, and standardized, synchronized watches that lost only a few seconds each week, were enough to keep train accidents rare enough that the public would ride upon them and freight would be shipped by rail. None of this required hyper-intelligence. Or deep, Einstein like understanding of the Cosmos. Just simple literacy and math, of the basic arithmetic level.
Africa cannot reach even that level. Because their people are not smart enough. For the most part. That might change, if say, Chinese or Korean-led genetic engineering offers a “smart virus” that can raise IQ levels. Even the most debased, witchcraft practicing, child sacrificing voodoo priest can see the advantage of being smarter. That future might be sooner than you think. Though likely fraught with side-effects of unbelievable nastiness. Using steroids to build muscles is loaded with nasty conditions. It is highly likely that making people smarter artificially by altering DNA will be even worse in that regard: cancer perhaps, or auto-immune diseases, and the like.
But barring widespread DNA changes, Africa is likely to remain an open, running sore for the world. And eventually be either colonized massively by the Chinese, to the detriment of Africans, or left alone to rot. Either way heralds a disruption of the raw materials Africa supplies to the world. South African Platinum and Gold and Diamond mines have for the most part been shut down by strikes and violence. Those commodities, along with coal, are likely to be in short supply for a considerable time, since production is caught up in the dilemma of post-Apartheid South Africa.
The people, poor and impoverished, wish understandably to live decent lives, lives they can see on the internet, on TV, and hear about on the radio. They certainly know their own lives are awful and getting worse, not better. However, their labor is so useless, because they lack even the basic literacy and arithmetic skills of the late 19th Century European or American workmen, that it is not rational or affordable for the mining companies to pay them a decent, living wage. You can see this most clearly in oil drilling operations in Africa. Despite the major oil companies doing everything they can to hire local talent, most of the production is done by outsiders, principally Asians and Westerners. Companies like Shell would love to pay the lower wages for locals, and also build up employment credits with regimes eager to gain political backing by the people for employment by outside companies at high (for Africa) wages. The problem is, far too many of the locals cannot even read or write, and are not capable of learning even if the companies attempt to teach them (which they have done, many times, for the reasons above).
To a lesser extent, this is true in South America, in parts of South East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia), and Central Asia (particularly Pakistan and India). These places however, are not as bad as Africa. Which is the worst continent in terms of the average intellectual ability of its people.
Failure of course has its own cost. In this case, shortage of raw materials from Africa, constant refugee flows, and the need to police the same. Israel has had to build massive fences and detention centers just to hold all the illegal aliens from Africa pouring into it, and most of Europe particularly those nations on the Mediterranean will have to do the same, eventually. This will of course in turn require intervention as in Libya, to keep refugee flows at manageable levels and not tidal wave amounts. Which in turn requires a military capable of intervening, and performing “Operation Refugee Stop” which in turn puts a hard limit on the amount of money that can be cut out of military spending in Europe and that which can be lavished on voting blocs for votes.
It would be better if Africa’s people were smart enough to grab the power of science and technology, but they are not. Which has global consequences. In the near-term, shortages of everything from chocolate to gold. In the long term, a constant need to have a military capable of preventing millions of permanent welfare users from reaching your shores as refugees and colonizers.