London’s burning

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.

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2 Responses to London’s burning

  1. Cathi Pawson says:

    I agree with the summary of what you’ve presented. Broken connections, a lack of ability to feel and build on empathetic relationships with humans and non humans. An environment that is harsh where the senses are bombarded with too much noise, light, smells. Not poverty per se, but inequality compounded by consumerist messaging designed to provoke dissatisfaction.

    I’d add to that the legacy of generations whose physical wholeness has been undermined – denatured industrialised food, artificial toxic street drugs, overprescribed medical drugs and sedentary lives with overstimulation from the multiple screens. Bodies filled with such emptiness lack sensitivity – and we touch each other through our physical senses as much as through our emotional selves.

    If we’re looking for reasons they are many and complex…the challenge for us all is not to react out of fear, but to keep reaching out for relationship with each other – however hard that may seem at the moment (and I write from a peaceful countryside, so easy for me to say!)

    • Administrator says:

      Hi Cathi,
      Yes, the slow poisoning of people’s bodies adds to the problem. Have you seen the documentary ‘Food Inc’? It’s about US agricultural corporations and is pretty shocking. Poverty = poor food = medical bills = more poverty. Important to see it, especially as some of the US practices are threatening to come to the UK.

      I have been heartened by the responses of many Londoners: People have been organising to clear-up after the rioting and communities have been gathering peacefully to find a way forward. That just shows that ubuntu is still alive here!

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