Edgar J. Ridley © 2014
We should be careful not to ignore the symptoms that these conflicts provide – only then can we eradicate symbolic behavior from our existence.
Nigeria’s current ethnic/religious tensions 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.
Edgar J. Ridley is a global management consultant focusing on behavior transformation using cognitive semiotics. He is the author of The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization (Africa World Press). www.edgarjridley.com Twitter @ridley69