An African-Centered Critique
European Cultural Thought and Behavior
Marimba Ani

From the Glossary


The logos of a culture, within which its various aspects cohere. It is the developmental germ/seed of a culture. It is the cultural essence, the ideological core, the matrix of a cultural entity which must be identified in order to make sense of the collective creations of its members.


Culturally structured thought. It is the way in which cognition is determined by a cultural Asili. It is the way in which the thought of members of a culture must be patterned if the Asili is to be fulfilled.

The vital force of a culture, set in motion by the Asili. It is the thrust or energy source of a culture; that which gives it its emotional tone and motivates the collective behavior of its members. Both the Utamawazo and the Utamaroho are born out of the Asili but as its manifestations.

An Excerpt from Chapter One

"Utamawazo: The Cultural Structuring of Thought"

Theory of Humanness
A theory of the human being has already been implied in our discussion of Platonic conceptions. We, as humans, are not whole beings, but rather made up of parts that are in continual conflict with one another. We are made up of "reason," "intellect," and our "better natures," which are constantly seeking to control our desires, appetites, emotions and to put our "senses" to proper use. The better part must control the "baser." According to Eric Havelock, Plato "discovered" the "psyche" that came to refer to the "isolated, thinking of self." The self was no longer conceived as a cosmic being, that is, a being that experienced itself as intimately involved with other beings in the cosmos. A "cosmic self" implies that the reality of self is phenomenally part of other realities presented as a result of sentient, conscious, and spiritual coexistence in the universe. Cosmos itself refers to the universe as a unified, interrelated (organic) whole. Havelock is saying that "pre-Platonic" Greece understood the self in this way. That makes historical sense, since Greece developed out of its cultural and intellectual association with early African traditions.

The African and Native American world-views have similar cosmic concepts. Their intellectual traditions and thought-systems rest from a basis of communal relationships as well as a sympathetic relationship with the natural environment. How would such a conception of the human being interfere with the ground rules of Platonic epistemology? Why was it essential that he cast doubt on the validity of such conceptions? A cosmic being must be whole. In such a being reason and emotion cannot be experienced as disparate, unconnected, and antagonistic. A cosmic self cannot objectify the universe. The more "intelligent" such a self becomes, the more it understands language as merely metaphor. This idea is common to the thought-systems mentioned. The highest, most profound truths cannot be verbalized, and one reaches for the dimension beyond the profane word where the meaning of the symbols becomes clear. But for Plato the "cosmic self" is incapable of knowing; it can only perceive, sense, intuit, and have "opinions." (The ascendancy of the so-called "left-brain.")

Plato establishes instead the "autonomous, thinking self." According to Havelock, this "self" or "psyche" is a thing or entity capable of not only scientific cognition, but of moral decision.36 Plato not only put forth the idea of the "thinking self"—an idea which must have predated him—but he simultaneously discarded other aspects of our "human" beingness as invalid or unworthy (unreal) and declared this superconceptual function—this totally cerebral activity—as the essence of humanness. Therein lies its uniqueness, strangeness, and significance all at once. He had proffered a new theory of humanness (man/woman). Much later, caught in the throes of evolutionary theory, it became very important in European thought to emphasize those characteristics that were thought to separate and distinguish "humans" from animals. "Intelligence," of course, was key; the essence of man/woman. (For Michael Bradley it is the "discovery of time.")37 Using Platonic conceptions and elaborating them, intelligence took on a particular definition.

Scientists have talked in terms of two parts or "hemispheres" of the brain for some time. The left hemisphere is believed to control certain kinds of thought processes.38 The implications involved are important to this discussion and will be discussed later. A related point to be made here is that while all cultures and all people involve both "hemisphere-modes," so to speak, in "normal" functioning, cultures and therefore their members can value one style of cognition over another. In such cases one will be emphasized and encouraged, while the other is not. A person will be rewarded for thinking in the valued mode, and such habits of thought will be reinforced in the formalized learning and socialization processes. The same person will be "punished" for thinking in the "devalued" mode, and will "fail for doing so."

In nineteenth century Europe, in which unilinear evolutionary theory reigned, European scientists said that the left hemisphere was "major," because it was associated with "thought" and "reasoning," which set humans apart from animals. The right hemisphere was labeled "minor" and less advanced or less evolved. It had a "lower" capacity, dealt with "emotion," and had to be directed by the left hemisphere. Clearly this was a nineteenth century version of the Platonic conception, which split man/woman into reasonable and emotional tendencies, superior and inferior faculties, and mandated the dominance and control of the emotional as normative state of being. And so "order" and "justice" were achieved. Plato stated the case for this kind of order in the person and, by extension, in the State. Nineteenth century evolutionists were giving "scientific" backing to the same kind of imposed "order" among the world's cultures controlling the more "emotional" (lower and less advanced) ones.

The point that is critical to this analysis of European thought and behavior is Platonic theory and epistemology and its subsequent development, enculturation, and reformulation provided the most effective ideological underpinning for politically and culturally aggressive and imperialistic behavior patterns on the part of European people precisely because the argument was stated in intellectual and academic "scientific" terms. Plato not only helped to establish a theory of the human that would valorize "scientific" cognition to the exclusion of other cognitive modes, but he established the Academy. It has since become a characteristic of European culture that association with academia represents association with truth, superior reasoning capacity, and impartiality or "objectivity"—this also means a lack of commitment to anything other than the supposed "abstract truth." What Platonic conceptions allowed for, consequently, was that the most politically motivated acts (e.g., wars of aggression, racially based slavery) could be justified in what passed for a-political, "scientific" terms; the terms of a supposed "universal truth," the eternal, unchanging "idea." This was not necessarily the Platonic objective, but it is the use to which this conception was put within the confines of European culture, molded by the needs of the European utamaroho. The asili—demanding power—made appropriate use of the "universal truth" idea.

The tack here is to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive analysis of European thought and behavior by examining related aspects of Platonic theory in terms of their ideological significance in subsequent European development. This analysis ends and begins in synthesis which is the asili demonstrating the consistency and cohesion, the monolithic character, of the tradition under scrutiny.

Plato's theory of humanness is a crucial aspect of his over-all theory. He successfully creates an illusion of the isolated self, and so, in twentieth century European (Euro-American) society, this self is indeed experienced as the psyche. This conception of the autonomous thinking self has locked the European into a narrow and limiting view of the human. It precipitated a kind of spiritual retardation in which painful isolation and alienation either incapacitates participants in the culture or makes them extremely efficient competitors, aggressors, and technocrats (technicians). In the Theatetus, Socrates uses the term "soul" as synonymous with "mind." Given the Platonic conception of significant mental faculties, this means that the soul became identified with cognitive thought, with "cold" calculation, with a lack of emotion and a denial of feeling and sensation. What theory of the human being does this imply? And what kind of utamaroho and behavior develops in a culture that accepts such a theory? If I am right in suggesting that these Platonic conceptions did indeed become normative and then tremendously powerful as cognitive models, and if we can accept the relationship between utamawazo (cultural cognitive character) and utamaroho (affective characteristics) as being intimate and co-generative, then clearly a model begins to emerge of patterned thought and behavior reinforcing each other as they develop.

In the Theaetetus, Socrates talks about the soul perceiving under its own "power." He makes the distinction between the body and the soul or mind. Through the organs of the body we perceive "hardness," "cold," "red," etc., but with the mind (soul) we "reflect," make judgements, and "think" about "likeness," "difference"—things that require knowledge of the "forms" or of "being." The soul reflects with its own "power," and the objects that it perceives are universal. Universality emerges as superiority and value. In the chapters which follow, the attribute of universality will be traced along the road of European ideology as it develops and hardens into the framework of the culture.

What is it that the soul, mind, or psyche has that the body and senses do not? Clearly it is control and with control comes power as in "the ability to dominate." The desire (need) for control and power are the most important factors in understanding the European asili. We will see that the sensation of controlling others and of therefore having power over them is the most aesthetically, psychologically, and emotionally satisfying experience that the culture has to offer. It therefore satisfies the utamaroho. It is the pursuit of these feelings and this state of being that motivates its members. The sensation of control and power is achieved in many ways in European culture, but what is significant here is that in its earliest and formative stages, Plato laid the basis for its achievement through an epistemology that rejected the poetic participation, thereby gaining "independence" (Havelock) from poetic involvement in order to both "create" and to apprehend the proper object of knowledge. The "object" was in this way controlled by the mind that contemplated it. With this knowledge came power, because the world could begin to be understood as being comprised of many such objects capable of being manipulated by the knower, the knower who was aware of himself (women didn't count) as knower and as being in complete control. The "pre-Platonic" man, in this view, was powerless, lacked self-control and was indeed manipulated by the myriad of emotions he was made to feel by the images around him. Such is the picture that we are given.

We cannot overstate Plato's significance precisely because we find European theorists and scholars making the same argument, painting the same picture in the twentieth century. Henri and H.A. Frankfort are concerned here with the distinction between ancient, "primitive man," and "mythopoeic" thought on the one hand and
modern," "scientific" man, and "scientific thought" on the other:

Thought (mythopoeic thought) does not know dead matter and confronts a world animated from end to end. It is unable to leave the scope of the concrete and renders its own concepts as realities existing per se. [p.14]

…the procedure of the mythopoetic mind in expressing a phenomenon by manifold images corresponding to unconnected avenues of approach clearly leads away from rather than toward, our postulate of causality which seeks to discover identical causes for identical effects through-out the phenomenal world. [p.20]

…mythopoetic thought may succeed no less than modern thought in establishing a coordinated spatial system; but the system is determined not by objective measurements, but by an emotional recognition of values.39

Not only does Plato's epistemology bring control accompanied by power, but also its attendant theory of (hu)man produces the European conception of the authentically moral being. For Plato, with rationality comes the power to make moral decisions, and only this new "autonomous thinking self" (Havelock) can properly be the seat of moral decision. This position, however, represents a confusion between the spiritual and the scientific/rational. Having equated human potential with an abstracted rational faculty, Plato takes us out of a humanly defined social context as the ground or determinant of our being. He then places us back into an artificial social construct that is now a reflection of his abstract concept of the "good" and of the "true"; a denial of the lived and experienced reality. But in fact, our concepts of morality must reflect our ideas as well as our feeling about proper human interrelationship. The "rational" person is not necessarily the "moral" person. It may be "rational" (efficient) to think in terms of selective breeding, cloning, and extermination in order to produce the "master race." It is neither spiritually nor morally compelling to do so. Plato seemed to be hinting that scientific method would generate "right" action. But war in the twentieth century is both rational and irrational at the same time. European horror movies in which mad scientists do crazy things are expressions of this seeming contradiction. Yet that personality is a "logical" extension of the Platonic equation of the moral and the rational.

This argument has been expanded, refined, and camouflaged in the terms of "modern" European "critical" philosophy. Jurgen Habermas seems to be arguing for a kind of universal language of "communicative rationality." In which social/cultural beings rely on their own intellectual examination of issues as the basis for judgement, as opposed to relying on their cultural traditions as a source of validation of choices/actions.40 This for Habermas would be part of the process of "rationalization" and can lead to authentic moral behavior or at least a criterion for determining such. His own language is that of European philosophic discourse of the 1980s; the Platonic model honed to cerebral perfection. It is "rationality" at its most impressive calling for a universal rationalism as the basis for "rational action orientations"40 and rationalized social order. Habermas uses Piaget's theory of cognitive development in relation to the valued process of "decentration," in which a priori

In his theory of (hu)man and of the State Plato succeeds in exorcising human and social reality of its problematical and ambiguous character. He does this by creating his own reality in which the mathematical abstraction reigns. "Real" truth, he says, is what we do not experience. It is unchanging being. Our experience is not real, but constantly changing, becoming. What this allows him to do is in fact to create an "unreal" reality in which ambiguity, creative imagination, and uncertainty of human truth is superficially eliminated. Of course, there is no such thing as "unreal' reality, so in truth the problematical still exists. Plato's Republic is a theoretical structure. His theory of the human is unrealistic. It leaves out some essentials of humanness and so as a model to be imitated has a tendency to create Marcuse's "one-dimensional man." Each of us is suited to one task or mode of participation in the State. The Philosopher-King and Guardians will be able to determine our proper place and so our destiny, very neat, very simple. The Republic is modeled after the "good," an abstract unambiguous, unchanging, monolithic reality. In order for it to work, people within it would have to be convinced of the theory of the human on which it rests. Stanley Diamond explains why the artist was seen as a threat to the State;

On the other hand, the mathematician would fair much better as Plato's view of the ideal man for the Ideal State. He emphasizes mathematics in the curriculum for the guardians. For him "mathematics" has the shape of truth and can provide the solution to all problems. Here again a particular concept of human nature is implied. And if people were in fact not like this, he would make them so. He would fashion their minds to think the way they had to think to make his mathematical equation." Because "numbers drag us toward Beingness."43 In other words there were changes that he had to make in the cognitive habits (utamawazo) of the participants in the culture if he was to succeed in the creation of the new order.


The New Dominant Mode
The birth of the archaic "European" utamawazo was accompanied and supported by the introduction of the literate mode as the dominant and valued mode of expression in the culture. The written mode preserved communication in an ever-increasingly precise form in what was to become "Europe." Writing had been used much, much earlier in other cultures, but as in the Kemetic MDW NTR (ancient "Egyptian Hieroglyphs"), it involved forms that symbolized much more than sounds or objects. The MDW NTR contains transformational symbolism that embodies African conceptions of universal and cosmic truths.44 It is an indication of the nature of the European world-view and of course an example of the intensity of European cultural nationalism that European scholars so consistently characterize the MDW NTR of Kemet as being merely "concrete."45 This form of "reductionism" is an effort to oversimplify ancient African writing, the earliest form of writing. It is an effort to make the MDW NTR appear conceptually limited and sometimes contradictory. In truth, the MDW NTR was too complex for Plato's purposes. He needed a modality that robbed the symbols of their "symbolic," their esoteric content. They had to be disengaged from the cosmos.

It is important to understand the process by which the literate mode became dominant in the culture and to understand exactly what is meant by the "literate mode" in this context. Although for many centuries to come it was inaccessible to most of the population, it still had a valued place in nascent, archaic, and feudalistic European society, and so greatly effected the shape of the culture. We are describing a process of development, and because the development had a "direction" does not mean that other characteristics were not identifiable. The poetic or, as Henri and H. A. Frankfort call it the "mythopoetic" continued to exist among the vast majority of the population, but it was relegated to a devalued position, implying inferiority of intellectual capacity. That is why "the primitive," defined Eurocentrically, is always associated with a lack of writing, and this is called being "pre-literate."

In nascent Europe the literate mode had ideological force. Remember that according to Platonic epistemology we must achieve objectivity in order to know and that in his terms this is achieved by causing our reason to dominate our emotions, which in turn gives us control. We gain control over that which we wish to know, therefore creating an "object" of knowledge. The mode of preserved communication (which had characterized most cultures and which would prevail in Greece centuries after Plato), was the poetic, the oral, and to some extent the symbolic mode, although Greek culture was not nearly so well developed in that regard, borrowing from other cultures their sacred and religious concepts. This mode relied on the identification of the knower with the known. On powers of memorization, and familiarity of the listener/participant with the subject-matter being used. The symbolic modes of the more ancient and developed civilizations also required apprehension of abstractions, but these were not the rationalistic abstractions that would come to dominate in European thought.

In the analysis of Eurocentric theorists it was this memory, this emotional identification and "involvement" caused by the poetic, "oral," and "Homeric" mode that had limited "pre-Platonic" man. This characterization thrusts us into yet another "split," another dichotomy of invidious comparison. And with this another aspect of the supposed "superiority" of the Euroean rears its head. The "pre-Platonic" man (Havelock's term), whom Homer's epics represented and whom they addressed, was in trouble according to Havelock. He is described as being "nonliterate," which of course has much more ideological force than just saying that he preferred the poetic form. It surfaces as a weakness and inability to conceptualize, a negative characteristic. It devalues him as a person. This "nonliterate," "pre-Platonic" person also picks up a host of the characteristics, which, in the European world-view, are either valueless or absolutely negative. Havelock describes the "Homeric man" as being a "sleeping" state, as though drugged. His mind is governed by "uncritical acceptance," "self surrender," "automatism," "passivity of mental condition," "lavish employment of emotions," "hypnotic trance," "complacency." He uses "dream language" and is the victim of "illusion." He is in the "long sleep of man" and is even "lazy."46 Why is Havelock so hard on those whom he places in intellectual opposition to Plato? It is as if this stage in Greek history or European development must be destroyed; certainly thoroughly repudiated. We will see in subsequent chapters of this study why these are precisely the terms that Europeans use to describe and demean other cultures, cultures that are labeled "primitive." And these are the terms they use to characterize the abilities of children of African descent and other groups who are seen as lacking cultural and racial value within the societies in which Europeans dominate. In fact, European academies "create" such nomininds.47 In each of these instances, including Havelock's critique of the mental habits of humankind "before" Plato, the statements made have ideological significance. They are supporting a chosen way of life, a set of beliefs. The objective is to establish the "way of life" as superior to all which either preceded it or that is different from it. It is the ideological nature of Platonic epistemology that makes this possible: an epistemology dictated by the European asili, carried in the cultural genes.

For Plato, the poet does not appeal to the proper "principle" in the person or to the proper part of his or her soul. And so the poet would not be able to help in the task of lifting us out of the darkness of the cave and correcting our ignorance towards the "light" of truth. The poet obstructs the proper functioning of reason and does not help us to gain control of our emotions.

Plato's argument with the poets is that they do not foster the view of the State and of the "good" of which he wants to convince people; of which they must be convinced in order for them to play their parts well. The Republic is perfect because it is absolute. But what if human realities are not absolute? Suppose there are ambiguities endemic to human existence? Plato solves this problem by simply "eliminating" the ambiguous nature of our existential reality, by pretending that it isn't there. Who, after all, is creating "illusion" and who is dealing with "reality?" The philosophy underlying the Republic says that human beings fit into neat categories, that they are each suited to specific tasks by nature, and will be happiest doing that for which they are best suited and that such is best for the order of the whole. Isn't that convenient? Plato doesn't need the poets "messing" up this picture—they won't help him sell his myth.

If the poets and the poetic in us is bad and backyard, certainly the other side of the coin is that our better, more rational natures are brought out by the literate mode, the substitution of object for symbol. When the literate mode dominates, we nurture a new and different mindset. That is the important thing. That is the significance of Plato's work. Contrast Havelock's characterization of this "new" man with that of the "old." The new man is governed by "self-conscious critical intelligence," "individual and unique convictions," a "critical psyche," "inner stability," "inner morality," and "calculated reflection." He is "self-governing," "emancipated," "reflective," "thoughtful," "self-organized," "calculative," "rational," "self-generated," "awakened," "stimulated," "thinking abstractly," and "autonomous." In the rhetoric of European value the deck is clearly stacked. This "new" person is smart! What we see is the epistemological basis of the conviction that literacy renders progressiveness and that when the literate mode becomes valued and finally dominant, we have a "higher" form of culture in terms of European civilizations, since that is where human being learned to be "critical,"
"indeed to think."

But the European is certainly not very "critical" if that means questioning the European world-view as Plato inspired its configuration. The world of literacy, it is believed, is a world of objectivity, a world of "impartial" truth. Oral media is "subjective." In it personality is merged with tradition. How do we change this? "The fundamental signs enabled a reader to dispense with emotional identification…."49 Plato urged a move away from "emotional involvement," "unquestioned precepts," and "imitation." (Today Habermas urges us away from predecisive validity claims based on cultural tradition.50) Plato supposedly introduced "technical" learning "on the highest level of consciousness."51 So while Plato is seeking to produce minds capable of the "highest" form of thought, "nonliterate man" emerges as being barely able to "think" at all. Indeed, we cannot be sure that he is even "conscious." And, what is more, this epistemology is seen to have moral implications as well. The literate participant of the ideal state is more moral because his ethics are subject to questioning, criticism, and analysis, while the earlier Greek ethic was not. (Of course, once the "questioning" takes place in the Socratic dialectic, not too much more "questioning" is necessary.) Within the logic of European nationalism these ideas were to be later echoed in nineteenth century evolutionary theory where Victorian culture was judged as the "highest" form, representing a more objectively valid moral state, the assumption being that European values were arrived at "critically" and "rationally" and were therefore universally valid. This was legacy form the "enlightenment," so-called.

Plato had set the stage for important ingredients of the European self-image. He sees himself as a critical being, rational and in absolute control. His mission is to control and rationalize the world, and this he achieves through the illusion of objectivity. Plato himself must have been something like this. Stanley Diamond draws a portrait:

The desacralized written mode allowed the object to be "frozen," reified into a single meaning; Kemetic MDW NTR is not of this nature:

R. A. Schwaller De Lubicz characterizes the MDW NTR in the following way, distinguishing them from the merely literal mode: "symbolism," which is the application of a "state of mind," or, again, a "mentality." "Symbolism is technique; the symbolic is the form of writing of a vital philosophy."54 "The symbol is a sign that one must learn to read, and the symbolic is a form of writing whose laws one must know; they have nothing in common with the grammatical construction of our languages. It is a question here, not of what might be called "hieroglyphic language," but of the symbolic, which is not an ordinary form of writing." De Lubicz is concerned with describing "the principles that govern the symbol and the symbolic in the expression of a vital philosophy, not a rationalistic philosophy." He says that there "exists no hieroglyphic language, but only a hieroglyphic writing, which uses the symbol to lead us toward the symbolic."55 The significance of these passages is that it affirms my belief that the MDW NTR of Kemet does not represent a "primitive" form of secular or profane script and is not therefore "pre-European." Rather, it represents a quite different view of reality—a mindset that sought to understand the universe as cosmos, therefore careful not to attempt the separation of spirit and matter. So that when we speak of the literate mode as championed by Plato, we mean to stress a unique definition and use of that mode: one devoid of the "symbolic" in De Lubicz' sense. This writing lacked something. It was only able to deal with "one-dimensional realities," and as Diamond says,

It was not that this literal mode represented or led to higher truths, but that the claim was made that it did and that it gave the illusion of having done so, making this medium useful. It worked! It helped to control minds, values, and behavior, just as any media does, but in a new and for some a "desirable" way. The written language was more impressive than speech. Platonic epistemology achieved this once it was valued. Then speech came to imitate this writing, which was no longer "magical," sacred, and truly symbolic. The permanence of the written word gave it ideological strength. The permanence of the written word gave it ideological strength. Written dialogues, written laws, and strangely enough, written prayers—the sacred reduced to profane "scriptures"; all of this became evidence, for the European, of the superiority of his/her culture.

Marimba Ani, Ph.D., is a veteran scholar, activist, and trained cultural scientist. She is a long time associate of the legendary world-renowned Egyptologist and African scholar Dr. John Henrik Clarke. She is a professor at The City University of New York's Hunter College and the author of Let The Circle Be Unbroken.

  1. Havelock, Eric. Preface to Plato, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1967, p.197.
  2. Bradley, Michael. The Iceman Inheritance, Warner Books, New York, 1978.
  3. Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden, Ballantine Books, New York, 1977.
  4. Frankfort, Henri and H.A. "Myth and Reality," in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, Frankfort et al. (eds.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1977, pp.14, 20, 21.
  5. Habermas, Jurgen. Reason and the Rationalization of Society Vol. I, Beacon Press, Boston,1984, p.70.
  6. Ibid, p.74.
  7. Diamond, Stanley. Searching for the Primitive, Transaction Press, New Brunswick, N.J., 1974, p.192.
  8. Havelock, p. 230.
  9. Levi, J.B. The Ancient Egyptian Language: Pathway to Africa, unpublished paper, 1984.
  10. Frankfort and Frankfort, H.A. pp. 3–27.
  11. Havelock. pp. 120–210.
  12. Wilson, Amos. "The Mis-education of Black Students," lecture at Hunter College, New York, April 29, 1988.
  13. Plato. Republic, Bk X:605.
  14. Havelock. p. 208.
  15. Havermas. p. 70.
  16. Hall, Edward T. and Brown, J. "Plato's Republic as an early Study of Media Bias and a Charter for Prosaic Education, "in American Anthropologist, 1973, Vol. 74., No. 3.
  17. Dianond. p. 192.
  18. De Lubicz, R. A. Schwaller. Symbol and the Symbolic, trans. Robert and Deborah Lawlor, Autumn Press, Brookline, Mass., 1978, p. 55.
  19. Ibid, p. 44.
  20. Ibid, p. 27.
  21. Diamond. pp. 3–4.