Monday 6 July 2020

Picture Post 56: Fate on the Verge of Extinction

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl
Photo credit: African shared pictures. Cameroon.

The woman in white, called ‘the female pastor’, cures a woman affected with COVID-19. Interesting in the picture is the physical approach this female pastor takes in regard to a contagious disease. Noteworthy is also the posture of the patient, which completely surrenders to this kind of aid.

Superstition. Can it or can it not cure?

When we dive into other cultures, we should be careful in responding to this question. In the case of this specific picture, we are talking about a place where the native language itself is in the throes of extinction. And with a language that is only spoken, not written, the population of such an ethnic group becomes extremely vulnerable towards misinformation.

Suppose you have grown up believing in magic, and regular medicine has never reached your habitat, beyond perhaps an aspirin. To reach out for what your people have always known is not stupid, is simply obvious. Less apparent is the exploitation of the superstition of minority groups, to create personal benefit in a context of capitalism and mass urbanisation. Hence they often go together!

To exploit a virus’s nature like COVID -19 with a blow in the face, is not taking care of ‘your flock’; rather it traces upon very old traditions that cannot endure the loss of the mind as a mystical labyrinth, in favour of the power of the human mind alone to find cure.

Inherently, this picture questions where the idea of destiny, which is characteristic of superstition, is going to stand in a globalising world.


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

I think this is a valuable insight. People are doing things which are precious to them, have always made sense to them, but the world has changed. I think it is a sympathetic insight, too. I know from university courses that such things are often treated for their sensational aspect. They are not sensational to the people who do it. And a question. How many such things do you and I do without realising it?

Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear Thomas, thank you for your nice comment.
Yes, I think we can be simultaneously close like far from these kind of things because we receive double information. On the one hand we have scientific research and regular medicine, on the other our grandmother’s recipes and believes, alternative cures.

If we flip the coin here, regular medicine surely exploits us as well, especially when we think of medication that is not truly medicine, and provides an important part of the pharmaceutical industry. This makes the line between, let’s say, ‘their superstition’ not that different from 'our ‘superstition’...

Keith said...

Any social system has, of course, the prerogative to adopt whatever treatment modalities it wants. Even modalities based on what many other people around the word may brand as superstition or magic. But, to my mind, those statements are tempered with wariness about a different hazard, of overly romaniticising folk medicine. So, if I have an illness and my choice is to be tended to in a university-affiliated research medical center or by a spiritual healer, I’d pick the medical center. Yes, that’s a science-based decision, packing the safest odds with regard to best practices and best outcomes. Therein lies the empirical data (science), confirming their treatments’ efficacy. And, in my opinion, trials-based, repeatable, and provable ‘efficacy of treatment’ is the operative phrase here.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear keith, Thank you for your thought.
IMHO, the distinction made in this post is actually about not having a choice, for there is no information. Perhaps I did create confusion with the comment above, which obscures the original post, thinking of an example that could enhance Thomas' comment.

I cannot agree with phrases like (quote): overly romaniticising folk medicine. These concepts belong to 'your world', (like romanticism does) and thoughts like these cannot be sustained in remote villages like f.e. in Cameroon. The point is about the exploitation that takes place by using cultural inheritance as a tool to take advantage of people in a globalising world, meanwhile not ignoring the cultural adherence these populations have.

Keith said...

‘Inherently, this picture questions where the idea of destiny, which is characteristic of superstition, is going to stand in a globalising world’. I agree with you, Tessa, that globalisation marks our future: it’s a globalising world, for all sorts of reasons like the speed, scaling, and ubiquity of technology, communication, travel, trade (markets), environmental issues, security, popular culture, human rights, shared knowledge.

I’ve heard some people recently talk in terms of the current covid pandemic pushing back against globalisation, maybe even permanently derailing it. In my view, there may be a pause, but only a partial and temporary one. As you seem to imply, the trend toward globalisation will eventually pick up its pace again, to get back to where it was pre-pandemic.

As I proposed elsewhere (the title of my 2016 essay on globalisation in The Philosopher), ‘globalisation’s momentum is irresistible and irreversible’. That is, I see globalisation as having long since reached critical mass. But I don’t see globalisation necessarily eradicating superstition as such, anymore than its eradicating cultural heterogeneity, but rather enriching lives, heightening awareness, presenting points of comparison, and giving people options as to values, beliefs, and ways of life.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Let us presume we live in a remote area where our language is in extinction and the urbanisation is growing next door, new illnesses arrive due to globalisation, how, as a small group are we going to deal with this? The estimate is that currently there are about a 1.000 critically endangered languages (fewer domains of use) and some 2.000 to be lost in one generation? All together this mounts approximately to 50% of the languages spoken worldwide. (, endangered, the UNESCO atlas of endangered languages).

If languages disappear, will cultural inheritance not vanish with this? Then I do not understand the beauty of globalisation as (quote) enriching lives, heightening awareness, presenting points of comparison, and giving people options as to values, beliefs, and ways of life.

Imagining us back into our remote village, soon we’ll have to leave for life, the way it was, cannot be sustained any longer in the midst of a progressing capitalistic system . Not only will we be disadvantaged in a globalising world, the transmission of our ancestors will simply cease along with this movement by being absorbed in completely different requests for survival. And is the latter not due to properly bring this ‘female pastor’ in the picture into the village in regard to Covid-19?

Keith said...

I’m onboard, Tessa, with your concerns about the survival of the world’s rich, but evaporating assembly of languages — and by extension, how important languages are to people’s experience of (even shaping of) reality. Rather than my repeating myself, however, I’d refer you to a short Pi essay I wrote two years ago, in 2018, on this subject. It’s titled ‘How Language Connects Mind, World, and Reality’. Here’s its link, in case you’re interested:

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