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Saturday
May262012

A modest discourse on Received Wisdom

By J L Samboma

Thomas SankaraaIt is inherent in the process of human cognition that we are apt to take a given stimulus, internalise it at face value and then – hey presto! – assume it to be divine truth and subsequently parrot it as our very own origination.  And so it happened to me not long ago, when I chanced upon a statement which, on the surface, seemed to be a self-evident truth, to wit: "Avoid loud and aggressive people."

Before proceeding we would, if we may, like to state unequivocally that this discourse is not by any stretch an "attack" – full-frontal or otherwise – on the originator of that statement, which, as we will see, needs elaboration and qualification if it is to be meaningful in the philosophical sense.  To borrow a phrase, we are not trying to be “loud and aggressive”; it’s just business as usual!

That is why we will not divulge the identity of its originator.  This is simply a meditation on human thought and cognition.  One could even go as far as to say that it also relates to how we internalise mainstream propaganda. But enough of that! As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot.

The realm of definitions

Now, on preliminary acquaintance, the statement that we should "avoid loud and aggressive people," Cheseems to make good sense. It is a proposition which most of us would knee-jerkingly agree with. But that response would have been arrived at without engaging in any inquisitorial way with the loaded terms which are its main currency. What does the author mean by "loud" and "aggressive"?  Let's kick the admonition to "avoid" into touch, for it does not concern us in any major way.

In a word, we have now entered the realm of definitions, a domain which is as integral to philosophy as are Logic and Empiricism. In other words, let's deconstruct. The somewhat reliable thefreedictionary.com tells us that "loud" – among other things – signifies that which is of "high volume and intensity," is "clamourous and insistent," and "offensive in manner."  This somewhat trusted source also defines "aggressive" as being related to "aggressive behaviour," "behaving in an actively hostile fashion," but also being "assertive, bold, and energetic."

You would have noted the caveat that my source is a "somewhat trusted" one.  This is deliberate, for the intention is to introduce into this matrix the fact that definitions themselves are not devoid of value-judgements and personal, material interests: Who is doing the defining? Why have they latched on to a particular perspective, discounting others?  And what are their material interests in so doing?  In a word, we should always have our wits about us as we traverse what the playwright Harold Pinter memorably calls "this tapestry of lies, upon which we feed."

You better have impregnable justification

The younger MarxHaving said that - and thereby once again alerted the dear reader to the pitfall of accepting "received wisdom" without question - we must say that, for the purposes of this modest discourse, we will use take the offerings of thefreedictionary.com as working definitions of the terms under review - "loud" and "aggressive."

Now, we may choose to "avoid" people who are "clamourous and offensive" to us, people who abuse us, gratuitously use four-letter words, and all who are driven by an almost innate desire to provoke fights and leave general discord and pandemonium in their wake. Had the originator of the original proposition thus qualified his/her statement, we would have had no problem in joining their flock of sheep.  If any rational person disagrees with that, then they had better have impregnable justification!

But, alas, our dear friend has eschewed such qualification as a luxury of which s/he can manage without.  Hence he/r blanket statement that "all loud and aggressive people should be avoided," a generalisation which leaves them exposed to the probing lancet of your friendly, neighbourhood enquirer.  It has done them a disservice!

Even Dr King was “loud and aggressive”

There are many people who I consider to be my political heroes - and who would be, and in fact are, considered by our political enemies as being or as having been "loud and aggressive."  Does that mean I should "avoid" them?  Hell, no!!! Take Bob Marley, Sankara, Che, Winnie Mandela, Karl Marx and his co-theorist Frederick Engels, or Kwame Nkrumah and Malcolm X; Marcus Garvey and Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral.  Even the sainted Dr King was considered by the racists to be a "loud and aggressive" so-and-so!

The thin red line which runs through all these people is that they were political revolutionaries, lovers"Dangerous subversive" Dr King and fighters for their people.  They were "loud" because it was in the nature of their calling to want to be heard; they had so much things to say, as Bob would put it!  And they were "aggressive" for the simple reason that they were freedom fighters. 

Their aggression did not spring from a desire to divide and subjugate, but was rather a response to those who wanted and actively worked to oppress and exploit them and their kind.  Before you classify them as being aggressive, first seek out the wellspring of that aggression.

It is worth noting as we move along that many of those who profess abhorrence of the "loud and the aggressive" are the same who cheer on the Bushes, Blairs and Obamas - the mass murderers sporting bespoke suits and executive jets!

Some wise head has said that the best form of defence is attack.  I would introduce that proposition into evidence, but for the fact that it is itself a contentious statement - of the kind which we are presently critiquing.

They were “assertive, bold and energetic”

In fact, those who called these s/heroes "loud" and "aggressive” were their detractors and ill-wishers – the capitalists, imperialists and their running dogs, whose survival was and is predicated on the subjugation and exploitation of "the other."  As our source puts it, they were “"assertive, bold, and energetic."

So, dear world-citizens and lovers, I support the counter-motion in this debate, that we should embrace the “loud” and the “aggressive.” With caveats, of course!

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