We should be careful not to ignore the symptoms that these conflicts provide – only then can we eradicate symbolic behavior from our existence.

The latest report on Africa’s governance has been released by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Much to no one’s surprise, there has been little if any progress in several years. Notwithstanding the location of the world’s richest background, 54 nations cannot find the key to true prosperity. Past award winners of the prize, Festus Mogae, Botswana; Pedro Verona Pires, Cape Verde; and Joachim Chissano, Mozambique, appears to have left a gap yet to be filled by today’s leaders.

Indeed, a major thorn in establishing effective governance has to be the ethnic and/or religious tensions, which are symptomatic of the conflicts that seem to be a permanent state of affairs worldwide. It has been said that as long as humans exist, we’ll be in a permanent state of racial and/or religious conflict. Said another way, conflict is an expected norm of human behavior. What is missing in this era of religious, racial and ethnic turmoil is a serious search for the reasons why conflict seems to be escalating, as well as a solution. The current theological conflict between the Christian and Muslim community, whether represented by attacks from Boko Haram, or the targeting of albinos in Kenya and Tanzania, are outcomes resulting from a readily identifiable dynamic – that of symbolic thinking in its worst form.

As scholars have investigated the root of human behavior to elicit why humans behave the way they do, there is a common consensus that symbolic behavior is what separates homo sapiens from non-homo sapiens. This has led to the assertion that symbolic thought is the genesis of all human creativity, innovation and productivity. In fact, the great American scholar, the late John Dewey, stated that “The discovery of symbolism was the greatest discovery in human history.” Further, many scholars classify homo sapiens as homo symbolicus.

All religion and racism have their origin in symbolic thought and, consequently, symbolic behavior.

If we are to comprehend the rationale behind today’s global conflicts, we must understand how deep-rooted assumptions and mythologies inform countless world cultures. We must attempt to solve these disputes by assisting citizens in obtaining an understanding of the negative impact of symbolic thought and symbolic behavior. This would provide a correct understanding of how religion affects human behavior as well as how symbolic behavior drives the mythological assumptions of so-called racial and ethnic conflict. Religion has been a vehicle to fuel controversy, and a policy of religious freedom is advised to avoid conflict that will become more serious and pronounced in the future.

I am sympathetic to the deep-seated beliefs that stem from symbolism and superstition that has been culturally implanted. This makes it extremely difficult for people to find a peaceful settlement. These conflicts threaten increasing death, hostility and unfair treatment globally due to the theological concepts emanating from religions that have, as their core, symbolic thought and practices.

Oppression and attacks on people of different ethnic backgrounds and religious affiliations clearly impedes productivity and economic growth. We need educated and informed people to understand these facts and to provide courageous leadership. We should be careful not to ignore the symptoms that these conflicts provide – only then can we eradicate symbolic behavior from our existence. Religion must be taught and understood for what it is: mythological and superstitious phenomena originating out of symbol systems activated by symbolic behavior. If this is not recognized, we will have a continuing pandemic of violence and death that will make economic growth impossible and poverty prevalent, creating a permanent state of affairs for the African continent.

As noted in my forthcoming book, the world is colonized by symbolic thought, which makes superstition and mythology the core of all decision making.[1] Unfortunately, we have a total misunderstanding of how symptoms work. It cannot be overstated: it must be remembered that there are only two ways of thinking and living in this world today. We think and live symptomatically or symbolically. Those are the only two ways of thinking and living in the world. This is essential to comprehend if we are to understand how to live out our lives productively.   To solve the problems and the conflicts in today’s world, we must think symptomatically.

Due to this colonization by symbolic thought, we have been going about root cause analysis the wrong way. One of the major problems is that there is a total misinterpretation of root cause analysis. That error of interpretation of root cause analysis is evident in the literature that involves the dynamics of symptoms as cultural indicators.   We have to get rid of this feeling expressed by so many scholars that spending time on the symptoms will make matters worse because it is not dealing with the root cause. The root cause analysis concept has been misapplied and misunderstood across the board by scholars, business executives, and Presidents of countries who state that dealing with the symptoms is ill-advised, and the alternative is to deal with the root cause. That false assumption has led to tragic events that have cost lives. It’s impossible to get to the root problem without going to the symptoms that cause the root problem.

Once we think symptomatically, we behave symptomatically. We must eliminate symbolic thought and symbolic behavior if we are to survive as a people and indeed as a civilization.

The phenomenon that is rampant in civilization that has caused immeasurable harm is this intention to make the symptom into a symbol. Symptoms are innate to the neurological processes of the human brain, while symbols are not. This is important to understand.


Edgar J. Ridley, Chairman of Edgar J. Ridley and Associates, is a global management consultant focusing on behavior transformation using cognitive semiotics. Designated an ‘Expert Consultant’ by the Asian Productivity Organization (APO), he is the author of The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization – Volume 1 (Africa World Press). Volume 2 of The Golden Apple is in press.  email:   Twitter @ridley69

[1] The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization, Volume 2 (Africa World Press) – in press.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *