Africa Brief 26 March 2017
A balance of forces
by Cees Bruggemans and Prof Willie Esterhuyse words 550
From a very distant past, we were wired by nature, to fight when this was needed. It was often accompanied by cruelty. As societies evolved, to the point of creating civilizations, a veneer was added, sometimes thickly applied and sometimes only very thin gruel, which we ended up calling nurture.
Our own dominant civilization is still the Western and her nurtured veneer we have come to call modernity, born from deep challenges these past 500 to 1500 years.
When things go wrong in the structure of an achieved civilization, and cracks appear, the veneer tends to get challenged too by the underlying nature being activated in a more primitive mobilization of force. Our past offers many examples of so-called civilized societies going to war and acting beastly, until a new peace, whatever its nature, allowed for quieter times, rebuilding and recovery, including papering over the cracked civilized veneer if it hadn't been wholly eliminated and had to be reapplied.
South African society is particularly complex in its structures and shortcomings and its responses to challenges often leave much to be desired. In recent centuries it has been developed as a Western offshoot, inheriting the modern veneer that goes with it, but her deeper challenges never allowing nature from drifting too far from the surface.
From the past we have mainly inherited technological sophistication, accumulated capital, and a widely spread human skill base. Whatever iniquities were incorporated in the past have so far only been partly atoned for, primarily because the country has tended to stagnate in the condition it found itself. There has been too little chance so far at naturally evolving a better resource allocation.
Indeed, in recent years, we have found more and more elements of nature making a comeback while modernity was being rejected by those so inclined. It has made the trust deficit in society only bigger, firing among some an ever greater determination to resort to force (nature) if that is what it takes to change things.
Elsewhere in the world today, similar processes are playing out, but to each his own – natural history, modern failings, democratic rebellion, new ways being sought, and all this not for the first time. Most civilizations know many such cycles before completely losing their way.
Even though lots is happening elsewhere too, we should not try to read too much into that regarding our own situation. There may be elements we share with other parts of the greater world, but our real story is a local, and long running, one.
What should concern us deeply at present is the evolving balance of forces in our society between our inner nature and acquired nurture. Is our modernity prevalent and deep-seated enough to withstand serious challenges? Or are critical elements of our society rejecting this acquired modernity and its growth processes and distribution, preferring instead to fall back on nature to take by force what isn't theirs?
We appear on a very finely balanced point, even if the true balance of forces is probably hidden from view, kept shrewdly in reserve for when it is needed most to force historical shifts.
Many labour in the hope of a good outcome. Others scheme without end. It won't go on indefinitely like this. The cookie will eventually crumble under the pressure of events. Only then will we really know which way society has decided to take us.
Come prepared for all eventualities.
Cees Bruggemans Prof Willie Esterhuyse
Bruggemans & Associates Political analyst