Thesis Number: #10 (Page 2 of 8)

Cultural intelligence

The task of social reconstruction begins by understanding culture, that matrix of values, rituals and institutions which are transmitted so that each generation does not have to “reinvent the wheel”.

Pre-civilised people were extraordinary because they cast their minds to the outer regions of the visible stars to work out the principles for what would become the cultural mainframe for sustaining their lives on Earth. As populations grew into larger settlements with new techniques for nurturing food from the soil, it was the genius of preliterate peoples that they could evolve techniques for disciplining the behaviour of themselves and others. They fused an ethical economics into the cultural mainframe. Onto this they embossed the exotic features that dovetailed them into their landscapes. So long as they adhered to their ethical economics, they could sustain ever larger agglomerations of people in increasingly complex settlements.

Every generation relied on the wisdom embedded in the legacy of their ancestors.

  • In traditional societies, elders told stories around camp fires to inspire new perceptions of what was humanly possible.
  • In the first city civilisations, priests conducted rituals in sacred spaces to elucidate the divine guidance that secured the Good Life.
  • In classical Greece, playwrights explored morality in amphitheatres to integrate personal behaviour with the ideals of the democratic state (Sternberg 2006).

Culture emancipates people to push the boundaries of their accomplishments. But it is all jeopardised when some individuals are allowed to capture culture and turn it into a private asset. That anti-social process unfolds when people’s right to share their natural habitats is grabbed for the exclusive benefit of a minority. To unravel the damage this inflicts, and to heal our civilisation, we need prophetic language to renew our visions of what is humanly possible.

Prophetic Voices

We know from past episodes that change tends to be inspired by people with the courage to challenge authority. Their voices were generally suppressed. Occasionally, they were heard. If we listen carefully, we can hear those voices in our midst today.

  • Language of the divine

Heads of the Christian churches are beginning to engage with the pain of the marginalised millions. Their declarations, however, do not suggest a deep appreciation of the structural causes that fragment our societies. But by re-reading their sacred texts, they can reactivate the mission that inspired their religion. In their midst they would find people like John Dudley Davies, an English chaplain who worked in Africa for 15 years.

On his arrival, Davies witnessed the way in which indigenous peoples were schooled into serving white masters. “At its worst, it is represented by Bantu Education in South Africa, which is designed to limit the black people to function in menial roles devised for and on behalf of the white minority” (1979: 15). He participated in a church group which reviewed the apartheid government’s proposals for land reform in Zululand. The “reforms” were purely political, with no consideration for the well-being of either the people or the land. When he returned to Britain, this experience “on the ground” led Davies to emphasise the events from antiquity that informed the bible’s teachings. Nehemiah’s intervention “recalled the people, especially the leaders, to the proper stewardship of the land. He saw that when ordinary people have too little power, they lose their contact with the land, they lose their security of housing and work, they risk becoming slaves, they get into hopeless debt, they have value only as producers of wealth for the benefit of the rich. On the other hand, the rich decide how much anything is worth, especially how much any land is worth, because they have the spare wealth to pay for it” (Davies 1993: 29). We are reminded that the mission on which Jesus embarked was to find and nurture the dispossessed poor, who had been displaced to the margins of society, “and the task of his followers is to take an awareness of it to  the so-called centre” (Davies 2002: 157).

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