Tuesday, July 03, 2007

¨Them¨ and ¨Us¨ mindset primitive

Ok, I promise this is the last word on the topic. I have now finished the tome by Ronald Suresh Roberts on the train back from Machu Picchu and a few things strike me about this vigorous defense of President Thabo Mbeki.

According to the unlikable Mr. Roberts, President Mbeki is always right and his detractors always pig headed settlers from the colonial tradition - no matter what the topic. This seems rather simple minded and unbelievable. No person - no matter how well disposed to the President - could believe every word of this book. It is just too over the top.

It is also interesting that Roberts, who often lauds Mbeki for his subtlety, and obviously thinks that subtlety is a virtue, does not do subtle himself. The most grating and intellectually problematic aspect of the book is the duality set up between ¨them¨ and ¨us¨.

He argues that one is either a native (a sort of state of mind that flows from one never criticising the President) or one is a settler (which means one criticizing the President or one has family who once slept with somebody who criticized the President).

Of course, anyone who has read any 20th century Continental philosophy or who has some common sense (native or otherwise), would cringe at such a simplistic dichotomous analysis. Surely we know that there are always far more than two sides to any question or controversy.

He does a disservice to the President by arguing in this way because it suggests the President is not subtle at all, but is a bit of a paranoid bully, who sees the world in stark terms but hides it from time to time to outfox the settlers. If this is true, well, then rather Jacob Zuma.

Mr. Roberts refuses to see issues as complex and refuses to admit that one can criticize the President without being a racist colonialist pig. He often goes on an entertaining riff about the colonial or imperialist mindset and I cheer him on. But then, in a lazy sleight of hand he links the critic of the President to this analysis to prove the bad motives of the critic, sometimes in the most tenuous way.

But what is lacking is an engagement with the actual critique. A settler´s arguments is invalid per se.

This kind of them or us arguments are insulting to the intelligence of the reader and will discredit the good points made in it about the often implicit racism and assumptions of white/European superiority that forms part of our public discourse.

Having said all this, I am intrigued enough to want to spend a night at a dinner party with a lot of red wine and Mr. Roberts as an adversary. It will be highly entertaining. It will also allow me to question him on those passages in his book that suggests that he might have a bit of native homophobia in his bones.


Africannabis said...
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Africannabis said...
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Africannabis said...

OY Vey! Is the scenery not pretty enough?!?

Why are you reading this dribble all the way out there - think of the carbon footprint of that book you just read... hardly worth it for the planet...

I caught an interview with him on telly the other day... if I was a fly on the wall at your dinner party - I would probably aim for the soup, to end my pain.

Anonymous said...

did that. apart from the wine, the night tuned out to be pretty boring... roberts seemed only interested in entertaining what the white folks at the table had to say.

Michael Osborne said...

Pierre, do you have any concrete textual evidence of RSR's "native homophobia?" Or are you relying upon the very same "I know it when I see it" intuition that the Omniscient One uses to discern racism in the bones of every settler he encounters?

Pierre de Vos said...

Michael, in the book Mr Suresh Roberts argues that Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat are evil people for criticising President Thabo Mbeki´s view on HIV/AIDS and suggests that their whole fight on HIV was really a way for them to push a homosexual agenda. He goes go on to say that this is in and of itself not a bad thing (¨some of my best friends are gay¨), but why complain about it if not to tap into a latent homophobia in society? Surely it shoiuld be irrelevant whether Edwin is gay or not, but in several passages Suresh Roberts suggests that this is an issue. Why? It just leaves a suspicion that he is a bit dicey on this issue in the same way that Jacob Zuma is dicey on women´s rights.

Michael Osborne said...

Pierre, having looked again at the text I must agree with you that Roberts has been, at the very least, insensitive. See, e.g. p. 189 (reference to Cameron’s “disproportionably white male and gay colleagues”); p. 190 (gay lobby “seeking a cultural politics for expanded popular acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles.”) The latter especially is standard trope amongst the right-wing American bigots Roberts claims to abhor

I initially challenged you on this score because I think that one of the unfortunate aspects of political discourse in SA is the reflexive ascription of racism (or homophobia), to political opponents. There is in effect a presumption of bigotry that every person accused thereof bears a duty to rebut. Robert is, of course, the worst offender of all in this regard (re race), so he could not really complain at being called homophobe.