Ubuntu is an African word which can be inadequately translated as ‘humanness’. It may, in fact, be untranslatable, but the principle is expressed in the African saying: ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ – ‘A person is a person through other persons’.
One of the most influential Western philosophers claimed that “I think, therefore I am”; African philosophy counters, “We are, therefore I am”.
I’ve touched on such notions before and the evidence from systems theory, cognitive science and elsewhere is clear: “we don’t form relationships, they form us. We are constituted by webs of interconnection. Relationship comes first, and we emerge as more or less distinct centers within the vast and complex networks that surround us” (de Quincey 2005).
What has all this to do with the London riots? In many parts of Africa, a person knows who they are because of their place in the community: In many parts of London, people have forgotten who they are, if, indeed, they ever knew. If you break the intimate connection between a child and their community, you destroy their humanity.