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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Tyranny of Culture…I think


photo: www.tes.com
There are many things of culture one learns as one grows older through social experience in society. Some of these cultural learning processes are unconscious, and one can’t actually point out when, or at what point in time, one actually started to learn them. One just finds oneself in possession of certain epistemic cultural realities. These epistemic realities—or Deweyan, informal pedagogy—affects one in one’s social or personal life.

For those who don’t know philosopher John Dewey, he explains education as happening, largely, informally through the transmission of traditions and norms that sustain a certain community from the old to the young. Since formal education is a small fraction of our general learning, what we learn informally makes the bulk of our epistemic and social life.

These social realities are the normative constraints or directives that happen to guide us without us knowing until we realize the straitjackets they become. The Camusian moment of consciousness, I would say! These cultural straitjackets or enablers, are cultural practices that make our ‘culture.’ I will take ‘culture’ here to mean a set of constraining or enabling normative and traditional factors that shape society.

While some of these cultural factors are admirable, some of these practices can be really repressive. 

I am going to explain a few repressive cultural issues that border on cultural dictatorship. I am not saying that ‘culture’ is bad; however, there are many repressive cultural practices that don’t do anyone any good; but there are cultural practices whose existence is fundamental to societal cohesiveness and longevity. Respect for elders and their wisdom is one good example. In a Deweyan sense, they help the community avoid social or cultural death.

This leads me to comment on some observations I’ve made within our diasporic communities as some of these 'cultural' practices are not only unprogressive, they are also disrespectful. Some Jiëëng communities, especially in community's sociocultural functions, ensure that men and boys are served before women even elder women. This is a cultural practice that I think should be done away with. Elder men and women should eat first before the younger people eat. Well, as Hilde Johnson recently argued, the best way to discredit a given reality among South Sudanese is to call it ‘western.’ Some folks would rush to argue that this is a western way of life without delving into the merit or demerit of the argument presented.

This makes some cultural practices irrationally anti-women.

I have also seen that some men don’t cook even if they know that both of them work.  It might be called ‘our culture’, but given the fact that these families live in different cultural realities to support their children and their families, it would be a good idea for men to support their wives when it comes to household chores. I know there are progressive men who help their wives already. Kudos to them. These are the good men or röör pieth.

I have also observed the expensive and exploitative cultural conditions in which young men and women, who are getting married, find themselves. What makes this cultural practice oppressive is the fact that the tyrannically exorbitant dowry charged by the diasporic communities is just morally wrong. Yet, we dispense with rationality and blame it on ‘our culture.’ Girls, who’d want to save their partners from this cultural tyranny by trying to convince their relatives not to demand too much dowry, find themselves either sidelined in marriage arrangement or derided in the name of culture.

I’ve also seen young men who leave girls of marriageable age in their diasporic communities to go and marry fifteen to twenty-year-olds in South Sudan. These girls are married off at such an immorally tender age in the name of culture. Girls who are above 25 are seen as ‘old.’ Old?

The above listed cultural practices are imposed on us by society—or we chose them in the tyrannical name of ‘culture—and there's little we can do about them as they are imposed on us by our ‘culture.’




Thursday, January 4, 2018

SOME WORRYING PROBLEMS WITH THE DIASPORIC COMMUNITIES*


Photo: The Atheist Freedom Wall
American renowned novelist, Virginia Woolf, wrote in her novel, Orlando, about society’s perception of women, arguing that “As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” Indeed! Societally, we tend to embrace things if they benefit us; and we ignore or dismiss them otherwise. This is a common feature among our diasporic communities.

Undoubtedly, there are many South Sudanese living abroad, who have this factually fallacious idea that living abroad makes them better than those living in South Sudan. Some unashamedly blurt it out while others insinuate the sentiment. Such a state of mind is not only poisonous to our togetherness and prospects, it also shows that we have a long way to go and that we should do a lot to self-assess if a better South Sudan is to be realized.

In this short article, I’m going to go through a number of things, which I feel are issues South Sudanese who live abroad should pay attention to or change.

INTERNAL DIVISIONS

We tend to give this false impression that tribal divisions are only in South Sudan when we in  the diaspora don’t even see eye to eye. We conduct our weddings and other social functions in the seclusion of our tribal groupings and yell on top of our lungs that “they are tribalists!” Yet we are quick to point out what is wrong with South Sudan. This is shameful.

WRANGLING FOR COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP

Like the infamous infighting within the SPLM, many South Sudanese living abroad have a knack for fighting over leadership. Some even refuse to leave office when their terms of office have expired. However, these people are the first to criticize SPLM leaders when they [diasporic communities] are doing exactly the same things the SPLM did or is doing. This is hypocrisy that borders on foolishness

PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTHS

Having community programs that can make sure that our young people are taught community and traditional values within the community is indeed invaluable. Young people also need rehabilitative programs that can help these young offenders avoid reoffending. If young people have something to admire within the community then these young people usually end up being people of substance. However, the very people who fail to initiate programs within their diasporic communities will be the first to criticize the failure of leadership in South Sudan. Yes, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar have failed as leaders. But haven’t you also failed? Putting on a tie and a clean suit to address community gatherings isn’t the measure of leadership. Leadership is in the deeds one performs for or in the community.

LOOKING OUTSIDE THE COMMUNITY

We tend to admire what’s not ours. How do we expect other communities to admire our community when we shun the very things that can make other communities admire us? Communities aren’t admired because they ask people to admire them. Communities are admired because they have something inherently beautiful and admirable within that community, something which stands out.

ASSUMING KNOWLEDGE

I encounter people who are so certain that what they are saying is the truth. They profess their assumptions so fervently that one who’s not informed about that given subject matter would believe such a version of ‘truth’ and ‘facts.’  However, one might rationally ask this question: “But who can know whether or not a given person is not knowledgeable about that given topic? Who’s this person who can claim to know things such that he or she can determine whether or not others are knowledgeable in that given topic?” The answer is simple! Research! If a person professes something which cannot be corroborated, or something that is factually out of place given available facts, then it’s wise to tell such an assumer to go back and research.

INTOLERANCE TO OTHERS’ OPINIONS

There are many diasporic people, who become so much offended by other people’s opinions so much so that they assume a fighting-mood. Instead of countering other people’s opinions with their own opinions, or countering an opinion with factual analysis, they brood over the fact that Mr. X or Ms. Y has the nerves to say such a thing. That opinions are opinions and can be freely debated no matter how ‘strong’ they appear, has escaped some of our brothers and sisters.

How can we change society if we can’t change our states of mind where we live?
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*Kuir ë Garang is the editor of 'The Philosophical Refugee'