12.09.2013 Feature Article

A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing

A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing
12.09.2013 LISTEN

I note in many aggressive, insulting and profane utterances on Ghanaweb, Facebook and elsewhere in the multimedia, a general and pervasive lack of knowledge, critical awareness and application, deep ignorance in reasoning and lack of debating finesse between us Ghanaians/Africans. Doubtless, some of the responses to this post will prove my point. But surely, we do not have to treat each other like this?

This rude social phenomenon of insults in public discourse of our affaires, I believe, is because of a combination of factors. Our debates are conducted along political, elite (group dynamics) and even ethnic lines. Our new-found romance with western 'democracy' wrongly informs some of us that it is ok to say whatever we want - damn the consequences. Some automatically pigeon-hole those with whom they debate as members of this or that party.

I bet overall, there is an alarming lack of general reading among our public. This is the key factor which has militated against elevation of people's literary awareness. Therefore, there is a deep cultural and social informational chasm that de-links the deep Pierian Spring of the world's knowledge pool.

Pierian Spring of Macedonia was sacred to the Muses (THE MOUSAI - Muses - were the goddesses of music, song and dance, and the source of inspiration to poets). As the metaphorical source of knowledge of art and science, it was popularized by a couplet in Alexander Pope's poem, An Essay on Criticism - 16 stanza. I am minded of this poem which was always on the lips of one of my secondary school teachers, the great James Anquandah (D.Litt, Oxon) - who went on the head the Department of Archaeology at, the University of Ghana, Legon:

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first Sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts,
While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize
New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
So pleas'd at first, the towring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky;
Th' Eternal Snows appear already past,
And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing Labours of the lengthen'd Way,
Th' increasing Prospect tires our wandering Eyes,
Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!'
(Alexander Pope, Essays on Criticism, 16th stanza, 216).
We must understand Pope's poem in the sense of how the formal and personal education we have amassed over the years, as practical knowledge and wisdom (through both assiduous reading and the abundant wisdom of life's experiences) must be placed at the service of reasoning, polite give-and-take, fact and sense-based critical exchanges of views (called discourse) to better ourselves, communities, country, continent and world.

Pope is right. We must thoroughly understand the context of the subject or action at discourse before proffering opinions or solutions ('Drink deep, or taste not'). Incomplete knowledge can confuse us ('shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain'). Doing a little bit of research and knowledge searching will keep us refocused ('And drinking largely sobers us again').

Our youthful precocities make us brave to presume understanding of complex issues ('In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts'). Thus our point of view are skewed as we fail to see the depth ('Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind'). But with deeper clarity we open our scientific horizons ('But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!'). Etc

Because of the many insults I have endured owing to such lazy-minded respondents as Pope takes to task, I have often seen the need to remind my audience my mission in writing. It is to interrogate poverty, ignorance (like the gratuitous insults displayed on a daily basis on the Internet) and powerlessness of the Ghana/African masses. I do this through trying to educate and engaging in relevant critical discourse of: social, cultural, political, economic and ideological issues. I also remind them I am not a member of any political party home or abroad. This might have abated the insults somewhat!

Let us reflect for example on the oft misunderstood noun, 'politics'. I have often written about a relevant issue or two only to be rebuffed, 'This is not a political platform'. Yet politics must not only be understood in the rigid, robotic sense of 'political institutions' that our neocolonial educational system taught us (i.e. parliamentary, electoral and judiciary). Rather it must be correctly understood as the social negotiation for power and progress. It involves all discourses and actions revolving around our struggles to be free!! It involves all social, cultural, political and economic processes. It is:

'The practice and theory of influencing other people on a civic or individual level. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance organized control over a human community, particularly a state. A variety of methods is employed in politics, which include promoting its own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries. Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes of traditional societies, through modern local governments, companies and institutions up to sovereign states, to international level.'

So, in reality, Ghanaian intellectuals and general public alike, are expected to do a little research to critically unearth and discourse all relevant discourses across inter-disciplinary zones: the depletion of Ghana's oil and gold deposits by western Trans-National Corporations; the control of all Ghana's key commodity and industrial sectors; the too often floating of Government treasury bonds to mainly western capital by our short-sighted treasury; Woyome/Isopone Judgment Debts.

Our critical cutting edge must be to point out the results of the Election Petition will be meaningless to Ghana's economic self interest. Why? Because there is no value in neither the NDC nor the NPP winning office. They are both subservient, neocolonial apologist parties for the IMF-SAP and western global exploiters of our resources. They are treasonable parties who have failed the Ghanaian electorate by compromising our economic self-interest!

I was famously banned from an Internet tourism site because I had criticized the fatty nutritional content, and possible genetically modified composition of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The site Administrators had advertised the entry of KFC to Ghana on their pages as if they had 90% shares in it! I sometimes amuse myself thinking about the many silly reasons why I have been banned from many walls. I must be getting increasingly effective in my mission to defend Ghana/Africa's self-interest to the hilt - it is pure mind-bugling idiocy!

But in saying all these, both a writer and his/her audience have major mutually beneficial responsibilities.

We are all individuals with differing opinions ('Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.'). No one is perfect ('In Poets as true Genius is but rare,

True Taste as seldom is the Critick's Share'). We must exercise our 'god'-given talents at will ('Both must alike from Heav'n derive their Light'). Some are naturally critical, while others are excellent writers ('These born to Judge, as well as those to Write.'). These will prevail to enlighten the others ('Let such teach others who themselves excell, And censure freely who have written well'). We may like what we write, but it is for others to give good reason to criticize them ('Authors are partial to their Wit, 'tis true,

But are not Criticks to their Judgment too?').
The solution is in mass literacy - from infancy to adulthood. I suggest we seek full self-education. School is just a start, but it does not guarantee good knowledge. Contrary to our neocolonial education, we must uneducated the years of brainwashing imposed on us. We must read more than watch TV, DVDs or even listen to radio.


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