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The phenomenon of widespread stigmatization of victims of deadly, or previously incurable, diseases in African traditional societies would appear to pragmatically contradict the humanistic values of communalism associated with those societies. However, the implied contradiction of the phenomenon, which borders on irrationality and injustice, seems amenable to a rational explanation when one considers the thick ontological underpinnings of African traditional communalism along with their epistemic significance. The justification of the proffered explanation, the paper avers, is made clearer when it is taken as a paradigm of Jurgen Habermas' theory of (communicative) rationality and action. Against this background, the paper argues that such global social problems as terrorism and internet scams may well be justifiable if Habermas' strategic and contextual models of rationality and action are communicatively valid. Keywords: African communalism, co-dependency ethos, stigmatization, pragmatic contradiction, pragmatic consistency INTRODUCTION African traditional (i.e. indigenous) cultures are noted by anthropological and sociological scholars alike for their communalistic form of life, which emphasizes the humanistic values of the co-dependency ethos with its universalistic appeal to equality and inter-subjective recognition. The codependency ethos is a direct consequence of the ontological worldview held in those cultures, where the community is seen as a communion of beings of all sorts, interacting together and forming a commensal and causal relationship as a necessary, not a contingent, factor for the survival of the social whole and the fulfilment of individual selves. As such, one would not expect to find in those cultures social acts of discrimination 27 Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies and stigmatization that are publicly and consensually recognized as morally legitimate. Yet, there is what one might refer to as an unofficial but popular view "unofficial" because undocumented and "popular" because widely entertained, even by professional epidemiologists that the phenomenon of stigmatization was widespread and ubiquitous in the communalistic systems of African indigenous cultures.1 If this is so, it can be said that, to a large extent, African communalism was a hoax, that African traditional societies merely paid lip service to the humanistic principles that are supposed to underlie a communalistic form of life. This is obviously so because the cultures seem to have in principle upheld communalism as the basis of their corporate existence on the one hand and to have endorsed in practice social acts of stigmatization and discrimination on the other. In other words, communalism, with all its acclaimed humanistic values of the co-dependency ethos in African traditional cultures, was pragmatically contradicted by the ubiquitous phenomenon of stigmatization in those cultures. This contradiction gives away those cultures, or so it seems, as both irrational (i.e. practically inconsistent) and unjust. Can this contradiction be reversed, rendered to be merely apparent, and hence show them to be rational and just? If so, how is it to be explained? In this paper, I seek to explain away the apparent contradiction that the African traditional communalist form of life was surreptitiously suffused and burdened by socially dehumanizing acts of stigmatization. To this end, I shall reappraise the rich and thick ontological underpinnings of African traditional communalism, which coordinate the epistemic understanding of acts of stigmatization as strategically, contextually and communicatively rational and just. Therefore the paper avers that the apparent stigmatization and discrimination in African indigenous cultures is a paradigm of Jurgen Habermas' theory of rationality and action, as it expresses an understanding reached within those cultures in order to achieve the essential goal of preserving the community. AFRICAN COMMUNALISM AS A CO-DEPENDENCY ETHOS Communalism, or its cognate communitarianism (from community), is a term used to express the peculiar cohesive and integrative character of African traditional societies. Scholars of sociological and anthropological backgrounds have affirmed the communal characteristic of African tradi 28 Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies tional societies in different ways. For example, Kwesi Dickson says that the communal system is a "characteristic of African life to which attention has been drawn again and again by both African and non-African writers on Africa; indeed to many, this characteristic defines Africanness".2 Jomo Kenyatta also says, with respect to traditional life in Kenya: "According to Gikuyu ways of thinking, nobody is an isolated individual. Or rather, his uniqueness is a secondary fact about him; first and foremost, he is several people's relative and several people's contemporary."3 He also notes that "individualism and self-seeking were ruled out. The personal pronoun I was used very rarely in public assemblies. The spirit of collectivism was much ingrained in the mind of the people."4 John Mbiti expresses a similar view when he writes that, in African traditional societies, Only in terms of other people does the individual become conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privileges and responsibilities towards himself and towards other people. When he suffers, he does not suffer alone but with the corporate group; when he rejoices, he rejoices not alone but with his kinsmen, his neighbours and relatives whether dead or alive. Whatever happens to the individual happens to the whole group and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: "I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am." This is the cardinal point in the understanding of the African view of man.5 In a similar vein, Leopold Senghor remarks that "Negro-African society is collectivist or, more exactly, communal because it is rather a communion of souls than an aggregate of individuals."6 Kwame Gyekye, therefore, says that the community life is not optional for any individual person who is at once a cultural being that cannot perhaps must not live in isolation from other persons in the community.7 The preceding views clearly indicate that African traditional societies were marked out by socio-cultural structures and arrangements which tended to, and indeed served to, promote individual well-being within the community, thereby maximizing and ensuring the overall output of feelings of joy and happiness for all persons in the society. In this context, all persons who lived within the community were presumed to share a family relationship for the fact that they possessed a common ancestry and kinship. Their relationship extended beyond the immediate nuclear family system to embrace all and sundry as brothers and sisters. The whole community was viewed as an extended family in which every person was related to the others as a brother or sister. It did not matter Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies much that the individual knew how exactly others were related to him or her, say, by blood or lineage tree. This is the concept of the brotherhood of family kinship. In such a community, the fact of common kinship inspired feelings of oneness and belonging that transcended such accidenttal differences as personal qualities, colour or looks, social status, sex and religion. For example, although imported religions like Islam and Christianity were virtually non-existent in African traditional societies, it was common for two brothers to "worship" at different ancestral shrines, apart from the compound shrine, without losing their feeling of oneness for each other. To this extent, communalism in African traditional societies is to be viewed as a distinctive African value rather than a disvalue. It conferred corporate integrity on the community as a whole and ensured the social security of the individuals who were bound together by the society. By extension, African communalism implies a co-dependency ethos. This means that communal life in Africa served the purpose of inculcating in the minds of African persons the strong moral feeling of togetherness, mutual interdependence of individuals in the society and the realistic sense of confidence that the co-operation and sympathetic understanding of, and from, brothers and sisters are always at the disposal of everyone. This ethos, which defines the African human nature, is generally considered to be a source and a mark of strength, potency, might and unity rather than of weakness. It underlies the notion of "moral humanism" in African traditional societies, of which Kwasi Wiredu writes: It has often been said that our traditional outlook was intensely humanistic. It seems to me that, as far as the basis of the traditional ethic is concerned, this claim is abundantly justified. Traditional thinking about the foundations of morality is refreshingly non-super naturalistic. Not that one can find in traditional sources elaborated theories of humanism. But anyone who reflects on our traditional ways of speaking about morality is bound to be struck by the pre-occupation with human welfare. What is morally good is what benefits a human being. It is what is decent for man what brings dignity, respect, contentment, prosperity, joy to man and his community. And what is morally bad is what brings misery, misfortune and disgrace.8 Wiredu thus spells out the morally unique humanistic character of African traditional societies, where what is morally good or bad was appreciated in the context of its contribution to the well-being and dignity of humankind Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies and the community in particular. The co-dependency ethos or feeling for others was such a humanistic virtue in African traditional societies. A very important clarification needs to be made here. It is that, although African communalism emphasizes the community as if it was the only recognizable (corporate) existent in the society, it does not follow that the individual loses his/her personal identity or moral relevance in the society. As Kwame Gyekye says, Besides being a communitarian by nature, the (African) human person is also by nature other things as well. By other things, I have in mind such essential attributes of the person like rationality, having a capacity for virtue and for evaluating and making moral judgements and hence, being capable of choice. It is not the community that creates these attributes; it discovers and nurtures them.9 What is implied here is that the individual is so important that the community cannot do without him/her just as he/she would be nobody without the community, which confers personhood, in both its ontological and normative senses, on the individual. This implication of African communalism is reminiscent of two issues: first, it evokes the intractable problem of holism and individualism in the social sciences, i.e. the question of the relative importance of the society and its members, and of whether the characteristics of the society are reducible to those of the individuals and vice versa; and, secondly, it evokes the bioethical principle of totality, i.e. the principle that the part is an aspect of, and exists for the sake of, the whole. The latter implies that African traditional communalism de-emphasizes the individual and stresses the collective well-being, which would ensure racial preservation and guarantee the future of the community. Similarly, in John Rawls' theory of justice, the individual is asked to place himself behind the veil of ignorance, which would diminish individual interest in favour of communal interests. This is hardly the place to comprehensively analyse the issues above. It suffices to note that the African traditional community was more than the mere aggregate of individual persons in the community, even though the individuals were an important and visible aspect of that community. This is because the community was perceived as a conglomerate of different entities or beings, not just human persons but also such beings as ancestors, spirits, deities, evil forces and the Supreme Being. Besides, the community consisted of institutions and structures that were established to promote order and security, and ensure the fulfilment of the individual. Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies To this extent, the community provides the social context in which the individual can mature and attain personhood; and, in turn, the individual becomes responsible for uplifting and sustaining the communal spirit by performing the duties and obligations expected of him/her. Thus, communalism in African traditional societies is meant to promote and sustain good social relationships and suppress individualistic tendencies, as it is believed that such individualistic attitudes would only result in the disintegration of the society. It is in this context that one is justified in saying that African communalism was founded in the strategic principle of "to be, or not to be"; that is, of collective survival or collective selfdestruction. THE ONTOLOGICAL BASIS OF AFRICAN TRADITIONAL COMMUNALISM The co-dependency ethos examined above is a direct consequence of the conception of being, or what it means to be, in traditional African societies. These societies believed in a number of beings, all of which exist in a hierarchical order within the community and occupy different realms of existence the physical and the non-physical. Ifeanyi A. Menkiti enumerates these beings as God, who is at the apex of the hierarchy, divinities, spirit-living dead and nameless dead, humans, and things.10 In other words, in the hierarchy of beings, the Supreme Being is at the apex, followed by the divinities primordial or deified and then the ancestors, other spirit creatures, humans and other animate and inanimate things. These beings have different natures and different roles to play in the community of beings. However, what unifies these beings to form a communion of being? According to Mambo A. Mazama, the principle of ontological unity is about the ... energy of cosmic origin that permeates and lives within all there is human beings, animals, minerals, and objects as well as events. This common energy shared by all confers a common essence to everything in the world, and thus ensures the fundamental unity of all that exists ... This energy constitutes the active dynamic principle that animates creation and which can be identified as life itself.11 This is the idea of force elaborated by Placide Tempels regarding the Bantu in Bantu Philosophy. This principle of ontological unity has at least Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies two immediate and profound implications: the principle of the connectedness of all that is based on common essence, and the principle of harmony based on the organic solidarity and complementarity of all forms. The human person in African traditional societies is therefore always in a web of relationships and interactions with beings of all sorts, acting and being acted upon. This interactive relationship, this communion with beings, is seen as essential in sustaining one's life, attaining one's goals, good fortunes and fulfilment, and maintaining order and security. Placide Tempels says regarding the Bantu: The activating and final aim of all Bantu effort is only the intensification of vital force. To protect it or to increase vital force, that is the motive or profound meaning in all their practices. It is the ideal which animates the life of the "muntu", the only thing for which he is ready to suffer and to sacrifice himself.12 The necessity of this web of relationships is clearly seen in the relationship between a person and his/her ancestors. Ancestors, Menkiti says, are "still continuing persons still very much a part of the living community. Here, the person that the child becomes at some stage in the ... journey does not abruptly go out of existence at the stage of physical death."13 The person sees the ancestors as an essential part of his/her life and communes with them to gain their support and blessings as he/she sees this as vital for survival. For instance, he/she seeks the ancestors' blessings during the birth of a newborn baby, during planting and during harvest; he/she seeks forgiveness when someone does something wrong in the family; he/she seeks their consent regarding family decisions. These ancestors can also only become meaningful and effective within their kindred, which implies that they need the reverence of the physically living for survival. What this means is that the co-dependency ethos does not only operate among the physically living persons in the community but among all beings, physical or non-physical, in the community. Hence, J.M. Plumley says, regarding the ancient Egyptians, that the whole universe was a living unity. Even those parts of the physical world which we are accustomed to think of as inanimate, e.g., stones, minerals, water, fire, air, etc., partook of a common life in which men and women and animals and birds and fishes and insects and plants and even the gods themselves shared.14 Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies In African traditional societies, it was realized that this unity of beings is fundamental for the survival of the individual and the community at large. It reflected vividly in the normative structures put in place by those societies to ensure the development and sustenance of a communalistic spirit among members of the society as an essential precondition for survival. The undeniable idea of the communion of beings in African traditional societies, and the need to maintain and sustain it, explains the nature of the social structures and institutions in those societies. The structures and the institutions were meant to checkmate anything that could destroy the unity of the society. It is in the context of strategic and communicative reasoning that we can understand the phenomenon of stigmatization in African traditional societies. THE PHENOMENON OF STIGMATIZATION IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES: THE ALLEGED CONTRADICTION What is stigmatization? What forms did it take in African traditional cultures? Stigmatization "has been described as a dynamic process of devaluation that `significantly discredits' an individual in the eyes of others."15 The qualities to which stigma adheres can be quite arbitrary for example, skin colour, manner of speaking, or sexual preference. Within particular cultures or settings, certain attributes are seized upon and defined by others as discreditable or unworthy ... Stigma is expressed in language ... This kind of language derives from, and contributes to, another aspect underpinning blame and distancing: people's fear of life-threatening illness ... Stigma is deeply rooted, operating within the values of everyday life [and] ... is linked to power and domination throughout society as a whole, creating and reinforcing inequality whereby some groups are made to feel superior and others devalued.16 These views make it clear that the object of stigmatization is usually a social group, or some persons who manifest peculiar characteristics. The phenomenon is recognizable in modern societies today in certain overt forms of attitudes and behaviour which tend to, or actually do rebuff, set aside, discriminate against, neglect, ostracize, deride, mock or condemn the objects of stigmatization. A cursory retrospective survey of how some persons, living or dead, were regarded or treated in African traditional Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies cultures gives the impression that the phenomenon of stigmatization was widely prevalent. In African traditional cultures, the persons who suffered from such deadly diseases as tuberculosis, smallpox, yaws (framboesia or button scurvy) and leprosy, as well as mentally ill persons, roamed the streets, farm pathways and access roads, or sat in isolation in marketplaces. Although they sometimes received alms in the form of used clothes and food items from philanthropic persons in the society, they fed themselves most often by scavenging in waste bins and by fruit gathering. They had no homes of their own as they had been abandoned by their families and the community at large. Quite often, they suffered derision and name calling at the hands of children and youths. Some of them, who were alleged to have confessed to witchcraft, were called witches or wizards while others were ordinarily referred to as mad persons. Under these circumstances, it seems one would be justified in adjudging those persons as victims of stigmatization. Their treatment as such usually did not end at the time of their death. Rather, when they died, they were further deprived of the traditional ceremonies by which "normal" persons in the society were accorded befitting burial. Instead of being accorded the usual burial rites, they were taken to places in the outskirts of the village that were referred to as "bad bushes" or "evil forests", where they were finally dumped and abandoned unceremoniously for vultures and other scavengers to feed on. However hurt a relation of such persons may have felt, it was taboo for him/her to express it, say by weeping or making it a subject of open discussion.17 If these practices were truly common features of the traditional communal societies of Africans, it would seem undeniable that those societies condoned and endorsed acts of stigmatization. Those practices, if true, are indicative of a pragmatic contradiction of the co-dependency ethos that is commonly alleged to be definitive of the sociocultural structures and organization of African traditional societies. In other words, the widespread phenomenon of stigmatization and discrimination of a few, based mainly on their health status in those societies, runs counter to the humanistic values associated with African communalism. Besides, the basis for the universal despicability of stigmatization seems to be well grounded and incontrovertible. Acts of stigmatization are by nature antisocial because they negate the foundation of human sociality, brotherhood and cooperation. They violate, or so it seems, all universal principles and theories of ethical standards for adjudging the rightness or wrongness of Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies human actions. To this extent, they balkanize the very principles and theories on which they could turn for explanation or justification. They dehumanize their objects, diminish their human dignity and deprive them of their natural rights insofar as they impede the capacity of their victims to express themselves freely in thought, speech and action. Also, they indicate a failure on the part of the stigmatizing actors to live up to their social duties and responsibilities. For, if the communal spirit of brotherhood was ingrained in those societies, one would have expected that the practice of stigmatization and discrimination would not only be strange but considered morally condemnable. Does it then mean, we may ask, that communal and familial solidarity, which is profusely alleged to characterize traditional African societies, along with its implication of the co-dependency ethos, is a hoax and really has no place in the African cultural system of values? In other words, do the practices of stigmatization in traditional African cultures actually contradict the ethos of co-dependency and communalism? Or, more importantly, to what extent do those practices diminish the capacity of those societies for rational consistency and justice? To answer these questions, this paper considers that Jurgen Habermas' theory of communicative rationality and action is relevant. HABERMAS' THEORY OF RATIONALITY AND ACTION Jurgen Habermas remains one of the most prominent social critical theorists of our time in general and of the Frankfurt school in particular. As a social critical theorist, his aim has been to develop a social theory that is practical and not just theoretical; that is, one that aims not just to bring about correct understanding but to make social and political conditions more conducive to human flourishing than what is already available. More specifically, such a theory has two different kinds of normative aim: diagnostic and remedial. It seeks not just to diagnose what was wrong with contemporary society at present but, by identifying progressive aspects and tendencies within the society, to help transform society for the better.18 The social theory that Habermas believes strongly can help to transform society for the better and to promote social order is a model of reason and action for, in the social realm, people commit themselves to actions by justifying them using language from good reason, which constitutes their rational validation. This validation has a practical function because it guides the action of social agents. The model of reason and action that Habermas has Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies so vehemently and persistently asserted is the communicative model of reason and action. This is the crux of the two volumes of his famous work: The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society (Vol.1) and The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason (Vol. II).19 One can conveniently refer to his theory of communicative rationality and action as his life project. However, understanding his theory of communicative action involves an understanding of his analysis of different models of reason and action. Habermas differentiates four models of reason, namely strategic rationality, contextual rationality, dramaturgical rationality and communicative rationality. He identifies the corresponding actions that are produced by these models as teleological action, norm-guided action, dramaturgical action and communicative action.20 In strategic rationality, "the rationality of action is correspondingly conceptualized as the efficient linking of actions-seen-as-means to the attainment of individual goals ... that rational agents are motivated by self interest, that is, they are egoistic utility maximizers."21 As such, teleological or purposive actions are explained as those actions where the actor makes a "decision among alternative courses of action, with a view to the realization of an end, guided by maxims, and based on an interpretation of the situation."22 It is primarily rooted in the motive for physical self-preservation. It also explains cooperative action among strategically rational persons for the purpose of availing themselves with collective goods, which, when provided, must (for all practical purposes) be beneficial to all members of a community.23 The actions that ensue from strategic rationality "are characterized by two criteria. (1). action is determined antecedently and independently of the means of its realization; (2). is realized by causative action in the objective world,"24 that is, by a relation between the actor and a world of state-of-affairs either as it currently exists or as it might be produced through action. The actorworld relation is both cognitive, through opinions about it, and volitional, through intentions to intervene in it. These two possible relations to an objective world can be thought of, respectively, according to the criteria of "truth" and "effectiveness" or success. While the former criterion demarcates epistemic rationality, the latter demarcates practical rationality in the purposive (teleological) sense. It is this purposive sense that accounts for both individual and cooperative actions among strategically rational individuals.25 As for contextual rationality, it goes beyond the narrow motivation for self-interest in strategic rationality to a motivation that takes into con Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies sideration the need for inter-subjective contextual orientation. It therefore has an intrinsically inter-subjective or social character, which manifests in basic communal values in the form of moral, religious or social norms. It involves orienting social behaviour not just towards self-interest but also towards creating or maintaining social institutions and traditions in which are encoded some conception of right behaviour and a good life with others.26 To this extent, contextual rationality produces norm-guided or norm-regulated actions, which involve "fulfilling a generalized expectation of behaviour".27 Hence, a normatively regulated action, Habermas says, "does not refer to the behaviour of basically solitary actors who come upon other actors in their environment, but to members of a social group who orient their action to common values."28 This model of reason and action is thought by Habermas to be summed up in Peter Winch's claim that the meaning and rationality of an action are to be understood against the background of the actor's place in relation to the existing norms and beliefs of the form of life of which it is a part.29 Hence, in assessing the rationality or irrationality of actions and beliefs in any society, it is appropriate to understand that an essential part of the criteria for such an enterprise is made up by the context within which these actions and beliefs have their place, particularly the existing social norms and worldview. Undoubtedly, Winch's view provides a useful framework for shaking off ethno-centric input about the rationality or otherwise of actions and institutions in nonWestern societies and, hence, for making sense of our intuitive feeling that it is not irrational for a citizen in a democratic political system (which he holds to be at least partially just) to act in ways which help preserve it.30 Aside from the teleological and norm-guided models of action, it often happens that an actor is neither solitary nor a member of a social group, but is interacting with people who constitute a public for one another, before whom they present themselves. The actor evokes in the public sphere a certain image or an impression of him/herself. He/she has privileged access to his/her own needs, desires, beliefs, hopes and wishes, but can monitor or regulate public access to them.31 "Here, the focus is not specifically on how an individual pursues a strategy or follows a set of normative expectations, but rather on how the performance of any action reveals something about the actor's subjectivity."32 This kind of action breeds what Habermas calls the "dramaturgical" model of rationality. Apt examples of situations warranting dramaturgical rationality are markets and bureaucracies. It is also exemplified by the seasonal TV reality show anchored in Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies South Africa and popularly known as Big Brother Africa (BBA). In the performance of dramaturgical action, an individual represents his/her subjective world in a specific manner to an audience of co-actors. This subjective world is defined as the totality of subjective or intentional experiences to which the individual actor has privileged access, and which he/she can reflectively relate and selectively represent to others. Such an actor-subjective world relation, in Habermas' view, can be adjudged to be rational by a consideration of the extent to which the actor's self-expression about his/her experiences in an utterance is consistent with his/her action. This means that rationality of the actor is measured in relation to the subject's truthfulness or deceptiveness in relation to others.33 Alternatively, the actor's self-expression can be rationally measured or assessed in terms of its "authenticity", that is, "whether the feeling or need expressed is what one really feels or needs."34 Finally, on the concept of communicative model of action, Habermas says it refers to the inter-action of at least two subjects capable of speech and action who establish interpersonal relations (whether by verbal or by extra-verbal means). The actors seek to reach an understanding about the action situation and their plans of action in order to coordinate their actions by way of agreement. The central conception of interpretation refers in the first instance to negotiating definitions of the situation which admit of consensus ... language is given a prominent place in this model.35 Within this model, actors are conceived of as oriented towards reaching an understanding on a given practical situation they face in order to coordinate their action consensually. It is expected that all participating actors appreciate the rational import of all the other three models of action. Consequently, they can reflectively determine which of the three models is applicable to a given situation in the course of working out an agreement on what action is appropriate to take. The three models of action, along with their respective actorworld relations, thus form a "commonly imputed system of coordinates" from which actors can reflectively select for the purpose of reaching an understanding with one another.36 How precisely is such an understanding expected to be reached by the actors? What ability or capability is presupposed about the actors by the communicative model of rationality? Habermas' real purpose for alleging a fourth model of communicative action is to explicate how language or linguistic competence can serve as Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies an intervening factor in the actors' mediation and assessment of the rationality or irrationality of social actions in the context of the other three models of actorworld relations. In his words, language is the "medium of unhindered understanding."37 This function resides principally in the speech acts of actors who, in their concern for cooperative coordination of their various actions, "mobilize the potential for rationality" inherent in everyday language.38 Whereas other models of action make or rationalize one or another "parochial" valid truth claim in the context of one world relation (e.g. truth and effectiveness in an objective world, normative correctness or legitimacy in a social context, and truthfulness and authenticity in a subjective world), the communicative model enjoys the virtue of being able to assess generally and reflectively, via the medium of language, the "rational internal structure" necessary for an over-arching and inter-subjectively valid agreement.39 An agreement thus reached via the communicative model is what, according to Habermas' theory of communicative rationality and action, should form the rational basis for genuine social cooperation. This is because the motivation for such rational agreement does not derive from mere strategic considerations, or from the mere fact that such agreement tallies with norms the prevailing institutions and traditions endorse as valid. The net consequence of the communicative model is that the "rationality" of whatever practical action results from actors' orientation towards reaching understanding and cooperation in a given "lifeworld" should be measured by the extent to which the actors, judging by the consistency of their speech acts, freely agree that their goal is reasonable.40 In this context, as in Habermas, rationality does not consist of the sheer possession and accuracy of specific knowledge claims but of "how speaking and acting subjects acquire and use knowledge".41 It is at once practical, inter-subjective and epistemic. By "lifeworld", Habermas means a shared cultural background of meaning, institutional provisions, and personality traits imbibed in family, religion, neighbourhood and school all of which conditions contribute to actors' orientation towards social cooperation on the basis of mutual understanding.42 For Habermas also, communicative action has the implication of "communicative" or "discursive" ethics as a formalistic concern. This is because it creates its own context for working out independent logic (Eigensinn) of normative questions and the idea of justice.43 According to him, the ethical context it creates provides a sharp distinction between Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies Moral questions which, under the aspect of universalization or justice can in principle be decided rationally, from evaluative questions ... which present themselves under their most general aspect as questions of the good life, and which are accessible to a rational discussion only within the horizon of a historically concrete life form or individual life history.44 In other words, communicative ethics provides a characteristic context in which moral questions, with their universalistic appeal to equality and inter-subjective recognition, can be resolved rationally beyond general considerations of evaluative questions within the context of whether some actions support the good life in a given life form. Against this background, Habermas argues first that, in order for normative claims in communicative ethics to be valid, they must have "a cognitive sense" (Sinn) and hence be capable of being treated like "truth claims", and secondly that a real discourse, rather than a form of a monological argumentation carried through in a hypothetical manner, is needed for the validation of a claim that a given norm is just.45 Habermas sets out three preconditions for a valid norm to be cognitive. It must (1) exhibit the quality of fairness or impartiality, (2) be capable of being expressed in some form of principle of universalization which (3) must be amenable to rational justification.46 Although he takes time to argue for these conditions, e.g. in his critique of Kant's foundation of universalizability of ethical norms and Kant's two principles of justice, it suffices to note that Habermas takes a norm to be justified only if "The consequence and side-effects for the satisfaction of the interest of every individual, which are expected to result from a general conformance to [that] norm, can be accepted without compulsion by all."47 This means that if every actor freely subscribes to a social norm without questioning, despite its recognizable adverse consequences, it should be deemed justified. Since, in the context of communicative action, social behaviour is coordinated on the basis of mutual recognition of validity claims, it follows that whatever moral questions arise about the behaviour of communicatively competent actors can be resolved by reference to the "normative force" inherent in their communicative action.48 What I suppose Habermas means by "normative force" here is that, given that communicative action endorses a social condition of inter-subjectivity in which validity claims are made possible and justified by subjects' speech act competence, the same condition imposes the obligation of recognizing existing ethical norms as valid and justified. Failure to acknowledge this Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies obligation is thought by Habermas to yield necessarily in a performative contradiction on the part of the actors.49 The universality of such norms also derives therefrom, for if the concept of justice demands a set of universally valid criteria for judging a norm to be just then it also sets out the principle of universality. Thus far, I have attempted to outline the essential conditions which, according to Habermas, a social action and an ethical rule must satisfy in order to meet the demands of communicative action and rationality. In my view, Habermas' theory all boils down to saying that an action or ethical norm is communicatively rational and justified if, apart from satisfying the strategic, contextual or dramaturgical model of action and rationality, it is amenable to rational justification and universalization in a social context of communicatively competent speech-act actors who are oriented towards reaching an understanding for the purpose of a cooperative coordination of their plans and actions. Without seeking to review the various criticisms against Habermas' theory of communicative action and rationality, my basic quest is to exhibit the widespread phenomenon of stigmatization in African traditional communalistic societies as a paradigm of the theory insofar as the latter is strategically teleological. I shall avoid passing judgment on whether those African traditional conditions were right or wrong, rational or otherwise, outside the limited context of its presentation here, even though I think that they were epistemically and strategically justified, and furtherthat Habermas' theory justifies too much, considering its implication for some contemporary social evils. STIGMATIZATION IN AFRICAN COMMUNALISTIC SOCIETIES AS A PARADIGM OF HABERMAS' THEORY OF RATIONALITY Given that the communalistic life form of African traditional societies was surreptitiously suffused, as it were, with discriminative acts of stigmatization, how are those societies to be defended against the charge of irrationality and injustice? How is the apparent practical contradiction posed by stigmatization and the co-dependency ethos usually claimed to be the definitive character of those societies to be explained away? More specifically, for the purpose of this paper, to what extent can those acts be viewed as rational and justified within the context of Habermas' theory of rationality and action? Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies As noted earlier, with the communicative model of rationality and action, actors are expected to be able to reflect on, comprehend and correlate the other three models of rationality and action. With this provision, it is easy to think that the actors of African traditional societies were fully aware of the dangers posed to their corporate existence as a people if victims of deadly diseases and persons who were believed to be inflicted with spiritual maladies were allowed unrestricted participation in communal activities. This makes it clear that the model of rationality that African traditional actors selected as appropriate for working out an agreement on what was reasonable and just to do in their situation was strategic, along with the teleological action of seeking as much as possible to avoid contamination of the entire community. In other words, members of African traditional societies can be said to have reached an understanding on how victims of deadly diseases could best be handled, bearing in mind that the most fundamental aim of individuals, institutions and structures of the community was the preservation of the purity and corporate existence of the community, which transcends individual interests and immediate time and space. They knew from empirical day-today experience that the diseases in question were highly contagious. Hence to allow the diseases to suffuse the community would pose a great threat to her collective survival, which might result in her holistic annihilation. This was compounded by the fact that there was lack of clinical know-how of the management of infectious or deadly diseases; that is, the traditional societies lacked the knowledge of how the diseases could be prevented from suffusing the community. Hence, their only option was to isolate and quarantine individuals who contracted the deadly diseases, an option that was both strategically rational and scientific, since modern healthcare delivery systems provide for isolation wards, and this does not amount to stigmatization. At the same time, it is appropriate to think that the means-end rationality of stigmatizing acts in African tradition societies was not motivated by pure self-interest, but also by contextual considerations of the general norms that defined African communalistic existence. The contextual framework is accounted for by the broad ontological background of traditional African communal systems. Practical acts of "stigmatization", "discrimination" and "isolation" were needed to maintain the purity of the community as a whole unit. For example, the creation of "bad bushes" for the burial of victims of deadly diseases grew out of deep social and perhaps religious significance. African communities, as we noted earlier, were thought to embrace not only Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies living persons but also ancestors and the yet unborn generations. For this reason, traditional African societies embraced beliefs in reincarnation (or rebirth) and in the continued intervention and interaction of ancestors in community affairs. In order, therefore, to avoid contamination of worthy ancestors and reincarnated persons by dead victims of those incurable diseases, it was thought to be contextually expedient to create isolated bad bushes. In this situation, therefore, those societies were pragmatically consistent in sharing an understanding of how their action endorses the symbiotic structures of their social world and how, in turn, that world not only gives meaning to the individual life but is held to be valid by the individual in a way that goes beyond strategic considerations. The past, the present and the future of the African lifeworld was holistically taken into consideration in reaching an understanding. Thus, in the situation in which those communities found themselves, it was strategically wise or rational to resort to the goal-oriented actions of stigmatization in a normatively defined context, in order to ensure the corporate survival and purity of the community, and credence must be given to the fact that it worked. The communicative import of their reason and action can be seen from the fact that the agreement reached to act the way they did was not imposed by any party either directly through intervention in the situation or "strategically through influencing the decisions of opponents [since] ... what comes to pass manifestly through outside influence ... cannot count subjectively as agreement. Agreement rests on common conviction."50 The communicative understanding that existed among the actors in African communalistic societies can be measured by the fact that not even close relatives of victims of so-called stigmatization would openly grieve the death of a victim of a deadly, contagious or incurable disease. This implies that there was a consensus among communal members that the interpretative processes by which the common understanding of their troubling situation was reached were satisfactory, and that their ensuing acts of apparent stigmatization were justified. CONCLUSION: IMPLICATION FOR GLOBAL SOCIAL PROBLEMS So far, we have indicated that there seems to be a pragmatic contradiction in saying that African traditional societies were communalistic and embraced the ethos of co-dependency on the one hand, and that there was the widespread phenomenon of acts of stigmatization on the other. At first, the Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies contradiction seemed incapable of being explained by recourse to the humanistic values of African communalism or the universal principles and theories of ethical standards. In our discourse, however, we have argued that the contradiction can be explained away by re-examining the humanistic ideals of African communalism for their ontological and epistemic underpinnings. What emerges therefrom, which this paper avers is corroborated by Habermas' theory of communicative rationality and action, is the understanding that consistency in ethical discourse goes beyond logical consistency to the notion of pragmatic consistency, which requires that all relevant possible conditions/elements in the present, past and future of a people's life form should be taken into consideration in ethical judgment. In other words, African communalistic societies, in spite of their practices of stigmatization, were arguably rational and just because moral action was itself, in the words of C.I. Lewis, the "expression of that which is the root of all reason; that in absence of which there could be no reason of any sort or for anything."51 If our analysis is agreeable, it does raise curious questions for such contemporary social practices as international terrorism, internet scams directed against Western colonialists, racism and homosexuality. For example, international terrorism, considered to be an organized reprisal of unscrupulous Islamic fundamentalists against the West, could claim rationality and justice for its actions on the grounds that the actors' particular situation satisfies the strategic and contextual models of rationality, and that their actions are communicatively valid. The same could be said of youths, especially those from erstwhile West African colonies, who, though not organized, could claim to indulge in internet scams against the Western world as a way of forcing some form of reparation from those countries who have enriched themselves through the heinous crime of the slave trade, which has not only hindered African human resource development but has continued to create economic imbalance and exploitation for Africa in an unjust world. In each of these cases, the actors seem to be bound by the common purpose of coordinating their actions in order to reach a cooperative understanding about their troubling situation for strategic and contextual reasons. They therefore have to take their destiny into their own hands. As a popular African proverb has it, "until the lions have their own historians, tales of what happened in an hunting expedition will always glorify the hunter". In other words, terrorism and internet scams, among other actions, though generally considered irrational vices and unjustifiable Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies against the background of traditional moral standards of judgment, would seem capable of being rendered rational and just within the context of Habermas' theory of communicative rationality and action. This is because terrorists and internet scammers can conveniently be considered to be acting from the vantage point of seeking to reach an understanding and assert the peculiarity of their lifeworld and the need for recognition as such. Consequently, it is our view that, if such global social problems as terrorism and internet scams are to be understood at all, the first step to take would be to examine and grasp the strategic, contextual and dramaturgical conditions of rationality and action in which they occur; for understanding an issue is the first essential step to resolving it. The need to curb those actions or attitudes that raise social problems today stems from the humanist ideal to ensure a better humanity and society, owing to the belief that such actions or attitudes are anti-social and inhibit social living. If this humanist goal is truly meant, the situation and the orientation (to success) that give rise to and rationalize those attitudes must be brought into focus, understood and adequately addressed. They should not simply be tossed away as irrational and meaningless. All these raise questions about the overall success of Habermas' theory of communicative rationality and action. Does the theory justify too much? Are different lifeworlds, their authenticity, along with their respective perceptions of truth and justice, dictated by the fact of their being rooted in communicative reason and action? Are all lifeworlds equally rational? Acknowledgements. I am grateful to my former undergraduate student, Mr Elvis Imafidon, for helping to source some materials used in this paper from the Internet and libraries and also to the review editors of Cultura: International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology for their critical consideration of the paper. Notes 1 This view was the outcome of an informal discussion I had with some village elders of Ayua-Uzairue in the Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria, on Sunday 14th February 2010. Among the elders were Pa. Joachim Akpala, aged 83, Pa Steven Osigwe, aged 79, Pa Otsemono Igbafe, aged 68 and Pa Shaibu Omoike, aged 67. The view was corroborated by some orthodox medical practitioners, including Dr P.A. Imomoh, who asserted that African traditional societies were copiously characterized by acts of stigmatization. Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies Dickson Kwesi, Aspects of Religion and Life in Africa. Accra: Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1977: 4; quoted in Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997: 36. 3 Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya. New York: Vintage Books, 1965: 297; quoted in K. Gyekye, ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 John Mbiti, African Religion and Philosophy. London: Heinemann Publisher, 1969: 108 109. 6 Leopold Senghor, On African Socialism, trans. Mercer Cook, New York: Praeger, 1964: 49. 7 Kwame Gyekye, "Person and Community in African Thought" in Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye (eds.) Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies. Washington: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1992: 104. 8 Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy and an African Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980: 6. 9 Kwame Gyekye, "Person and Community in African Thought", op. cit., 111. 10 See Ifeanyi A. Menkiti, "On the Normative Conception of the Person." Kwasi Wiredu (ed.) A Companion to African Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004: 324 330. 11 Mambo A. Mazama, "Afrocentricity and African Spirituality." Journal of Black Studies. vol. 33, no. 2, Nov 2002: 219. 12 Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1959: 175. 13 Ifeanyi A. Menkiti, op. cit., 327. 14 J. M. Plumley, "The Cosmology of Ancient Egypt." C. Bluker and M. Lowe (eds.) Ancient Cosmologies. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1975: 24. 15 Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity. New York: Schuster, 1963, quoted by Peter Aggleton, Kate Wood, Anne Malcolm and Richard Parker in UNAIDS Best Practice Collection: HIV Related Stigma, Discrimination, and Human Rights Violation: Case Study of Successful Programmes. Switzerland: UNAIDS, 2005: 7. 16 Ibid.: 78. 17 These views derive from the informal discussions I had with some village elders of Ayua-Uzairue, earlier mentioned in reference 1 above. 18 James Gordon Finlayson, Habermas: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005: 4. 19 The two volumes of Habermas' work, The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society vol. 1 and The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason vol. 2, are translated by Thomas McCarthy and published by Beacon Press, Boston, 1984 and 1987 respectively. 20 Stephen K. White, The Recent Work of Jurgen Habermas. Reason, Justice and Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988: 3639. 21 Ibid.: 10. 22 Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op. cit.: 85. 23 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 12. Jacob Ale AIGBODIOH / Stigmatization in African Communalistic Societies Marian Hillar, "Jurgen Habermas: A Practical Sense Sociologist and a Kantian Moralist in a Nutshell." Roots of Humanist Ethics: A Historical Perspective (Centre for Philosophy and Socinian Studies), www.socinian.org/files/Habermas.pdf Accessed April 08, 2010. 25 Stephen K. White, op.cit.: 37. 26 Ibid.: 1516. 27 Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op. cit.: 85. 28 Ibid. 29 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 18. 30 Ibid.: 19. 31 Ibid.: 3839. See also Roger Bolton, "Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action and the Theory of Social Capital." A paper presented at the meeting of Association of American Geographers. Denver, Colorado, April 2005: 8. 32 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 38. 33 Ibid.: 3939. 34 Ibid.: 39. 35 Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op. cit.: 86. 36 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 39. 37 Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op.cit.: 9495. 38 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 40. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid.: 3944. 41 Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op, cit.: 11, quoted in James Bohman and William Rehg, "Jurgen Habermas", The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Summer 2009, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/ Accessed August 17 2010. 42 James Bohman and William Rehg, op. cit.. See also Jurgen Habermas, vol. 1, op. cit., chap. 6. 43 Stephen K. White, op. cit.: 48. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid.: 49 48 Ibid.: 50. 49 Ibid.: 51 50 Jurgen Habermas, Vol. 1, op. cit.: 287 51 Clarence Irving Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1946: 481.
Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology – de Gruyter
Published: Jan 1, 2011
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