Dr Nkosana Moyo - Evolutionary Friction

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Dr Nkosana Moyo is founder of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) and a former Zimbabwean Minister of Industry and International Trade. Illustration: Sindiso Nyoni



Different societies are at different points on the journey towards our 'desired' destination I JUST FINISHED READING THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett, set in medieval England. What comes across as one reads these narratives of European history are societies going through what informed Thomas Hobbes when he described the life of man as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Europe today is a far cry from that imagery. Africa, on the other hand, is not too far advanced from that depiction of human existence. For most Africans life may not be solitary, but it surely is still poor, nasty, brutish and short. My main interest in this article is neither one of the two depictions, but rather their point of intersection. Whilst the Europe of today is much improved from that of Thomas Hobbes' era, there is no doubt as to whence that Europe of today has journeyed from. So, we can observe that all human societies are in a state of perpetual evolution. Evolution from the primitive, if you will, evolving towards the enlightened. With the exception of isolated tribes, we can safely say that most of humanity


is off the starting blocks. We are all on our way on the journey towards enlightened humanity. Just to be absolutely clear, no society has reached the enlightened humanity space. We are all still evolving towards it. What is also clear is that we are not all at the same point on the journey towards our 'desired' destination. Different societies are at different points on the journey. Everyone, however, started from pretty well the same 'primitive' point. Here are some generic descriptors of what happens as a society moves up or along this meandering evolutionary journey. Generally, society becomes progressively more institutionalised in the manner of conducting its affairs. The interactions among its members become more rules-based than relationships-based. Conflict resolution shifts towards an institutional and negotiated form, away from use-of-force forms. Class divisions are smoothed out to create a semblance of a more inclusive society. The state and state institutions are largely accepted by all citizens and they in turn

← LOOK AT HOW EVEN TODAY, THE SO-CALLED DEVELOPED SOCIETIES ARE STILL EVOLVING approximate being of service to all rather than just to the political and economic elites. Broadly speaking, in less-evolved societies the institutions of state serve the interests of the elites at the expense of all other members of society quite openly, just as they did in medieval Europe. There is no pretence of societal equity or inclusivity or any such indicators of a fair society. The powerful elite imposes its will on the rest of society and gets away with it. These characteristics describe a society that, although out of the primitive box, is still a long way from attaining evolved status. I am always somewhat puzzled by the poor quality of interaction between people who belong to societies that are at different points on the evolution journey I have outlined above. I would have thought that those who are ahead in that journey would engage with a lot of understanding, given that it is a journey their societies understand well. In virtually every instance, these societies have the good fortune of very good historical records, so there is no room for them to claim ignorance of what happened along the way as they navigated their way to where they are today. In the case of Europe the long journey includes numerous conflicts, including two world wars. In reality, their way of engagement suggests that their societies do not have such murky histories. It is like they never passed through the terrain that we are now so painfully picking our way through. Unfortunately, we on our part appear to be too lazy to research those historical facts. Why is this of any consequence, you may ask. It is of great importance because our way of engaging each other is very counterproductive. As indicated above, we are all still on the journey, albeit at different points on that journey. Given that no society has attained perfection, I believe interaction structured to share experiences gathered on the journey would be better received by those still following from further back on the track. The idea being to help them shorten the time taken to travel a given amount of societal change in comparison to those who went before them. A quick tour of any history shows that none of today's more advanced societies can claim to have travelled the evolutionary road without committing atrocities similar, or in most cases much worse, than those being committed by

today's laggards. This is in no way an excuse for atrocities committed today, but rather a realistic assessment of how human societies evolve. Another way to understand this is to look at how even today, the so-called developed societies are still evolving. Let us take the example of LGBTQI rights and the death penalty. Even the more evolved societies are still feeling their way through these issues. Yet when they interact with less evolved societies, they are inclined to force the laggards to abandon their own foundations and jump onto 'hanging' platforms. It is my view that this is what has led to dysfunctional developing world institutions. These are enforced on people before their own journey has taken them to where these institutions make sense. What am I suggesting? Firstly, that we think carefully about the terms we use. We call what I have termed 'more evolved' societies, 'developed' societies. Developed implies job done, as if these societies have reached an end point. The fact is that they have not reached an end point, as I have shown through the two examples of the death penalty and LGBTQI rights. The institutions of these societies are still evolving. A lot of their institutions will be different a few years from now. Even their institutions of democracy, their constitutions, voting arrangements whether first-pastthe-post or proportional representation, etcetera – all these institutions and mechanisms are constantly being reviewed, questioned by their societies, tested for their fitness for purpose. Capitalism in its current form is in crisis – so even the economic model that has worked wonders to bring the world to its present form of material wellbeing will evolve as times change. My second suggestion is that the more evolved world show a bit of humility in its interaction with its less evolved brethren. The interaction should more take the form of sharing experiences than of preaching from a high altar of righteousness. It should be to share experiences, so that the evolutionary laggards can shorten the time needed to cover a particular distance of evolutionary travel. My humble opinion is that an approach such as the one suggested would create less friction in the interaction and produce better knowledge transfer, and hence contribute to faster transformation or evolution for society as a whole.

OGOJIII 09/2016  P 73

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