The Age of Light
Light is an important symbol of humanity's unique ability to control the environment; because of light humanity learned not only how to survive the environment, but more importantly how to master it.
Truth is the light
The need to seek truth (answers/understanding/knowledge) is an intrinsic quality of our humanity that sets us apart from all other species. ‘Truth’ is so key to our existence, as we struggle to survive through the prevailing veil of uncertainty that naturally characterizes our environment, that it is liken to having access to light while in the dark.
At first there was darkness.
Humanity, in its initial evolutionary stages, had limited methods of deriving this ‘truth’ and found itself at the mercy of nature. We had more questions than answers about our humanity and the environment in which we lived, creating an air of uncertainty and fear of the ‘unknown’.
And then there was light.
Light, able to show the way in the darkness, is an important symbol of humanity’s unique ability to control the environment. Because of light, humanity learned, not only how to survive in its environment, but more importantly humanity learned how to master it. Light, as a result, became a source of hope in the face of an all-encompassing darkness.
Who are we?
Human beings are social beings at best. One thing we learned earlier on, as human beings, is that we need each other to survive. Hence, our inherently selfish nature is of no use to us if it does not guarantee the overall survival of our species. So, in as much as we are motivated by our need for self preservation, our actions are ‘governed’ by our need to act with the preservation of others and the environment in mind.
How do we survive?
Human beings are economic beings at worst; we have to survive and often we do so at any cost. So methods of survival are the most important factor to our human existence with the exception of the need for our continued human existence itself. As a result, methods of survival will always reflect and support a greater societal context informed by the need to preserve our continued existence in as much as we can still be motivated by individual pursuit.
How do we do this?
Human beings, at most, are spiritual beings when uncertain. Humanity is inherently in conflict with itself. Our sustained existence as human beings requires maintaining a healthy balance between these two extremes (the social being and the economic being). This can only happen if we employ restraint and the greatest source of restraint is accepting that there are limits to even what human beings are able to understand and explain. The things we cannot explain we leave to a superior power referred to as God.
As a result, the endless struggle we find ourselves in, is in many ways, a result of these two extreme and often conflicting ways in which we can view our humanity: our social identity (who are we) vs our economic agenda (how do we survive). These impact on how we struggle through these two extremes and our spirituality, as a result, keeps us in balance in the process so we do not give up on this critical struggle.
Knowledge is light.
As a result, every society is a combination of identities that come together in answering the questions: “who are we?” “how do we survive” and how the answers to these and many other questions are communicated in order to project to others and defend it as one identity.
This need to understand or acquire answers/ knowledge results into two primary methods of organic societal formation that I like to call the two i’s of life:
1) Inquiry. Inquiry is the primary method of seeking understanding aiming to derive the ‘truth’ by asking a question with the intention of getting an answer.
2) Influence. Influence is the primary method of explaining occurances with the aim of convincing others, in particular those who don’t know or have a different understanding. This has the effect of dividing people between those who accept and those who reject your understanding (for or against).
Humanity consequently lives in duality; we are, at best, divided into two vying sides (those who are for and those who are against). Our existence is heavily dependent on the choices we make between the vying sides of any argument.
A critical part of ‘proactive’ societal formation (which I like to call social navigation – directing society toward a desired norm) is not simply about influencing others, as many like us to believe; but rather about influencing how people influence each other, or in other words influencing how people argue. And in order to effectively influence how people argue you have to return to and manage the root of all arguments: how people understand.
As a result, understanding or knowledge is the most coveted of human attributes. So coveted, that those who demonstrate superior understanding or levels of knowledge often become opinion leaders amongst their peers or in other words social ‘influencers’. From philosophers to political leaders, demonstrating superior understanding and ability to convince others of the same is a critical factor in reinforcing ones positioning in society.
In addition to this, understanding has also had a significant effect on the ‘social navigation’ method of choice from, arguably, the beginning of time: communication (influencing what people think, how that makes them feel and what they do as a result). Communication, as a social navigation tool, has evolved broadly through two phases:
1) The age of darkness. This is a period when access to understanding was so limited that everybody relied on a trusted source: the person with knowledge. This is a period where the majority didn’t readily have access to ‘understanding’ and those who had this understanding used it to reinforce their influence over others. The age of darkness banked on and in some cases went as far as investing in ignorance compelling those who knew no better to accept beliefs by those who knew more. This age depended on institutions and ideologies associated to the trusted source to propagate principles and values that were key to our continued existence.
2) The age of light. This is a period when access to understanding is so prevalent that everybody can be a source, even those without understanding that is trusted (fake news). This is a period where advances in methods of understanding, fostered significantly by advances in science that have increased its roll in how we explain our humanity; making access to understanding available to the majority at a speed equivalent to that of light. Survival in this age depends heavily on a societies ability to transfer stewardship of its core principles and values to the people enabling them to filter the barrage of often over or mis information.
What does this all mean?
The ideal social navigation’ approach must embody the following qualities, to be effective in ‘the age of light’, as a result:
1) It must motivate individual pursuit (Human beings are by nature capitalist)
2) It must commit individuals to a collective good (Societies are by circumstance socialist)
3) It must submit us to a greater power (The fear of God is empowering as it removes us from the fear of man and the environment to a force that is all knowing)
An ideal social navigation approach, as a result, will reinforce values and principles using institutions and ideologies (the trusted source) while ensuring that over time these same values and principles are seeded at the individual level so that ultimately the individual owns them and protects them for a greater good.
Love, Trust and Faith are the three most critical values that we need to intrench in our social conscience given the different parts of our being:
1) The social part, which informs how we commune or interact, is reinforced using values that bring us together irrespective of our differences. ‘Love’ is the primary building block of a society in this regards. Love cultures selflessness enabling us, in the process, to see the good in people even if there is ‘bad’. Love is best evidenced by showing concern for others even when it doesn’t benefit us. The main institution in galvanizing the social part is the family.
2) The economic part, on the other hand, is reinforced by values that enable people to work together in the ‘struggle’ against their reality to deal with their reality even if they don’t necessarily ‘love’ each other. The struggle is sow important that love should not be a factor. Hence, the economic part has not to do the person and your concern but rather what the person can do for you. Whereas social linkages require that you like each, economic ones don’t. Economic linkages require trust that you have what it takes to deliver on your commitment. Legal contracts are a critical part of economic relations.
3) The spiritual part, which enables us to admit that we cannot have all the answers that confront our reality and have to be guarded in our struggle. This reinforces restraint in exploiting the environment with consideration for others in anticipation of a future. Spiritually nurtures hope by building our conscience. Religion is a critical force in infusing spirituality.
That said, these values are not interchangeable. You are safe when individuals in a society understand: love to be a social prerequisite; trust to be an economic prerequisite and faith to be a spiritual prerequisite. Love is something you have for people irrespective of what they can do for you. Trust is something you have, not in people per say, but rather what they can do you for you even if don’t love them. Faith is something you have in God (a superior and divine force) not people or what they can do for you. Trust if different from faith in that it needs verification often through contracts and certification. You can love your friends even if you don’t trust them. You can trust a stranger even if you don’t love them. You can have faith in God even if you don’t know him or what he can do for you.
Now back to the real deal.
Winston Churchill is frequently quoted as saying that the truth is so important that it must be protected by an army of lies. The truth or the meaning behind the many often conflicting moments in life is the secret that underscores our sustained human development and dominance. As such for many centuries it was protected by a myriad of ‘untruths’ that often put focus on the moment and not the meaning behind it.
With the world becoming more interlinked and knowledge and light now moving at a comparable speed (digital technology), one thing is for sure, light is becoming more prevalent than dark and cannot be hidden or avoided.
This is the truth the world knew but Africa may have been late to wake up to.
The ‘new world order’ which empowered (or was empowered by) advances in computing and communication sciences and positioned it as the governance tool of choice of the 21st century invested in its own undoing and the effective end of the age of darkness. The computing age has revolutionized communication in ways unimagined by even those who propagated it. No more significant a shift than in moving from ‘broad’ casting (having a ‘trusted’ source sending messages to many recipients at once) to ‘narrow’ casting (many sources sending messages to one recipient at once). Essentially, now the recipient once dependent on broadcasters, can now also be the source, even if not trusted or reliable in their own right right - something unimaginable during the dark ages. Broadcasting represents the final chapter of the age of darkness making way for narrowcasting on a broad base through the internet, marking the advent of the age of light. Countries are now forced to live in the light; to ignore this truth is beginning of the end.
Broadcasting, once used by those seeking to influence beliefs of the masses (often keeping them in the dark and dependent on the trusted source for information as a result) to enforce values and principles held by the source, is now challenged by people being able to spread their own values and principles to the same effect.
In the age of light, seeding core values and principles in a structured way like the education system is suppose to do can no longer be viewed as a luxury or a threat to political dominance to established institutions and ideologies but rather it is the only remaining line of defense. With the internet we are living in a virtual constituency, lacking in State logic, where every citizen is a potential source and authority.
Education of the masses is no longer an option. It is the only line of defense in a world where these masses can be accessed by anyone and influenced in your favor or disfavor. Short of this we risk being over consumed by moments as opposed to the founding meaning behind the events, which is key for our sustained existence.
The USA provides the best case in practice of a society that has mastered this approach to social navigation. The people own the values and principles often the reserve of institution and ideologies in other countries. In Tanzania, for one, people view the cyber law for example as a tool meant to be used the institutions that enforced it, while in effect it is better placed being used by individuals even against the same institutions that effect it. The US is perceived to be a litigious society because its people are not only informed of the law but more importantly are taught how to use it.
There is a Swahili adage that goes ‘he who is not taught by his mother, will be taught by the world (asie funzwa na mamae hufunzwa na dunia). This simply warns of the ruthless nature of the methods the ‘world’ employs to teach us when compared to the often sheltered and kinder methods of our mother. We need to learn as much as we can while we are still secured from the worlds hostility in our ‘mother’s’ care to safeguard ourselves against a world that could care less about how prepared you are to deal with its rath. Not to educate our people in a way that makes them stewards of not just any value but rather our/ Tanzanian values, is to expose them, and the nation, to the merciless wrath of a world consumed by information flow from multiple and often untrusted sources propagating untruths that protect their version of the truth.
Mwalimu understood this.