Rationalism in the South
Richard Leakey on African rationalism
In many parts of the world, particularly in the technologically advanced nations, rationalism has been to a large extent accepted as legitimate, even if not main stream. This is certainly evidence of progress and well worth celebrating as we look towards the next one hundred years of intellectual development within our species. Sadly, the rationalist philosophy and in this sense, the importance of secularism in emergent democracies is not being given adequate political weight in many of the so-called 'less-developed' countries. In this regard, there is obviously much to be done.
As a Kenyan, living and working in my country within the public sector, I am constantly surprised and concerned about the growth of dogma in a religious sense. Christianity and Islam are popular and these increasingly affect public administration and the development of the country's leadership imagery. The fundamentalist theme is increasingly popularist and insidious; it is 'creeping' into many facets of daily experience. Our schools which are in most cases poorly equipped by teachers and teaching material, all have strong classes in Bible studies. The belief that whatever will happen is actually up to God and not personal endeavour is ever more a part of the national character. Our situation may be comparable in some aspects to Europe in the last century, where being God-fearing was a basic requirement for most positions of leadership. I am sure the Kenya experience is the same for many young poor nations of the south.
I wonder whether the IT revolution, which is not really upon us yet in the developing countries, will bring an acceleration of changing attitudes? Will a more rationalist culture grow or can we expect greater repression of young minds as a backlash from teachers and popular leaders of society? I do worry that a sense of inadequacy will lead to a greater dependence on the simplistic rhetoric of mindless leaders who cannot cope with the floods of fact and reason.
As we move forward in a better-informed world, it is essential for all of us to give time to the promotion of rationalist values. It is all too easy to forget how a struggle, won in one place, is a fight not yet begun in another. The Rationalist Press Association surely has much to do in coming years.