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).  Twitter @ridley69

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Edgar J. Ridley © 2015

Racism is a disease of white people.  I do not intend to be quiet about it.

Albert Einstein at Lincoln University, May 3, 1946  [i]

In things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, February 18, 2009


The weekly, ritual killing of Black men and women by white police forces, as well as the nation’s refusal to hold the shooters accountable, is but the latest in a century of abuses experienced by African-Americans.  To add insult to injury, it has become an American fad to conduct superficial conversations regarding race.  It is important to emphasize that a discussion of America’s recalcitrant racial dilemma that does not include historical corrections is an exercise in futility.  The global disputes sparked by religious conflict make it easy to ascertain that religion and race are the two issues that cause most of the bloodshed and conflict around the world.

Over 30 years’ research has proven inarguably that the failure to solve this problem rests in a dilemma caused by symbolic behavior.  The disease of racism has caused more damage and death around the world than any phenomenon with the exception of religion.  To appreciate the damaging effects of racism, we must first understand that racism has its origins in symbols and symbolic behavior.  Contrary to traditional academic understanding of symbols and symbolic behavior, symbols have produced both racism and religion.   W. Edwards Deming, the great scholar and consultant, stated that America could well be the most underdeveloped country in the world, due to its misuse and abuse of the skills and knowledge of the American workforce.  [ii]   Further, the 20th century educator, John Dewey, stated, “the discovery of symbols is the greatest event in human history.  For without symbols, no creativity or innovation can take place.”   Indeed, man has only two choices for behavior:  symptomatically  or symbolically.

White America is in a permanent state of denial.   American conversations require permission from the white population for the introduction of race as an issue – this has been prohibited, typically enforced by using fear tactics such as marginalization or ostracism.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s observation that Americans are cowards for not dealing with racism was heavily criticized by the white media.   The attacks and resistance encountered by President Obama are too numerous to catalog here, but suffice it to say he has been muzzled when it comes to the discussion of race.

I maintain that the solution to racism and other prominent global conflicts is to behave symptomatically instead of symbolically.  Remember:  symbolic thought is not innate to humans, while symptomatic thought and behavior is innate to humans.  When one does not think symbolically, thinking symptomatically is automatic, leading to good mental health.   Thinking symptomatically means seeing things as they really are, without mythologizing.  Refusing to think symptomatically leads to symbolic behavior.  Symbolic behavior is a racist behavior, a continual state of mental illness.

Symbolism, which originated in Africa, has a profound effect on the human brain.  The common academic understanding is that symbolism (symbolic behavior) occurs naturally within humans between eight and nine months of age.  As noted in my earlier research, the activation of symbolic behavior within humans is a neurological misadventure. [iii] Symbolism produces mythology, superstition, and ritual.  Symbolism, or symbolic behavior, is a mental illness.  Racism, which has its origins in symbolic behavior, is a mental illness.

Symbolism presents the ability to mythologize all things.  Indeed, the very concept of race is a myth – there is only one race, the human race.  Dividing people into racial categories is mythological and scientifically unsound.  As human genomics research tells us, we share 99.99 percent of our genome with one another.  The remaining .01 percent is biologically insignificant.   Unfortunately, the American Psychiatric Association has refused to classify racism as a mental health problem, since they argue that American racism is a norm.  As so eloquently posited by noted psychiatrist Alvin R. Poussaint in 2002, continually perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy.  [iv]  Indeed, the renowned physicist, Albert Einstein, has called racism as practiced by whites the most serious disease in American culture.

The realization that symbolic behavior, including racism, is a mental disease will cause feathers to fly in all of academia and, indeed, in all institutions that civilization depends on.  When one has the ability to symbolize, i.e., mythologize, any person or event, it becomes a murderous weapon that stagnates cultures, civilization, and dominates all the institutions that are operable in society.  Traditional academia has advocated both symptomatic and symbolic behavior by humans; my research suggests that this is schizophrenic and should be a non-starter.

The need for a change in behavior is essential – the solution is to think and behave symptomatically in all life situations.  Only then will we see the transformation the world requires for peace.


Edgar J. Ridley is Chairman of Edgar J. Ridley and Associates, an international management consulting firm, with a worldwide practice based in New York City.  His most recent book is The Golden Apple:  Changing the Structure of Civilization, Volume 1 (Africa World Press).  Volume 2 of The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization – Evidence of Symptomatic Behavior, is in press; and he is currently drafting Volume 3 of The Golden Apple:  Changing the Structure of Civilization – Symptomatic Behavior in Practice.





[i]   Jerome and Taylor, Einstein on Race and Racism, Rutgers University Press, 2005.

[ii]   W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1982.

[iii]  Edgar J. Ridley, The Neurological Misadventure of Primordial Man, Black Male/Female Relationships, San    Francisco, CA, 1981.

[iv]   Alvin F. Poussaint, “Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness?”, Western Journal of Medicine, 2002;176:4.

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Edgar J. Ridley © 2013

Much attention has been directed towards the recent report titled U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, sponsored by the National Institute of Health. The report indicates that, with only a few exceptions, the U.S. population is at the bottom in health advantages when compared to other high-income countries.   For the past thirty years, Americans have been dying at ages far below those of their counterparts in other industrial countries.

This report was remarkable in many ways.  First, it showed a multi-disciplinary aspect that has been lacking in other reports on the state of health in America.  Second, besides addressing several disciplines, it focused on areas of people activity other than health practices that shorten American lives.  Finally, a very interesting observation highlighted by the report was that, although the panel fully expected the long-acknowledged health disparities among the nation’s people of color to be a contributor to health disadvantages, they were surprised by the findings that even “advantaged Americans – white, insured, college-educated or upper income, are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries.”  [1] The report concludes that it is important that the general population understand the dynamics of these poor health outcomes in order for there to be a change in behavior.

To rectify the problem of health disadvantages in the U.S., America will need to overcome the traditional resistance to change. One area of research that could be explored is epigenetics, which is the manipulation of gene behavior to limit the ability of disease to take effect.  The manipulation of gene behavior is compatible with the dynamic that occurs between symbol systems and symptomatic processes, both of which dictate human behavior.

The report acknowledges that there is more work to be done.  The late world-renowned consultant, W.E. Deming, was famous for helping to rebuild Japan’s industries after World War II.  Not only was he honored with the National Medal of Technology by President Reagan, the Deming Prize was created in Japan in his name.  It is intriguing that Japan is one of the industrialized countries that has surpassed the United States in health advantages.   Deming notably stated:  “What is the world’s most underdeveloped nation?  With the storehouse of skills and knowledge contained in its millions of unemployed, and with the even more appalling underuse, misuse, and abuse of skills and knowledge in the army of employed people in all ranks in all industries, the United States may be today the most underdeveloped nation in the world. “ [2]

America has a long way to go toward admitting its shortcomings when it comes to fairness in research and problem-solving.  It would be ironic if the problem of health disadvantages among all Americans gains a spotlight now that the affluent, white population is impacted.   Indeed, health disparities among America’s people of color has been symptomatic.  If we are not careful, there will be a tendency to take a symbolic approach: overriding the symptom of health disparities among people of color to solve the health disadvantages of the white population.  This is symptomatic of the behavior of American people that has caused this overall problem in the first place.

Deming was right, and this new study confirms it:  America is underperforming because of its inability to deal with its great resources among the general population.  The National Institute of Health, which sponsored the study, has been criticized for rejecting African-American scientists for research grants.   Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College and a former deputy director of the National Institute of Health, stated  “If indeed we are biased in the way that we review some of our applications, that means that the American people’s money may not be going to the strongest scientific ideas.” [3]  It is imperative that a change in behavior take place if these health disadvantages are to be resolved.  That behavior cannot be symbolic.

Edgar J. Ridley is Chairman of Edgar J. Ridley & Associates, Inc., an international management consulting firm.  His latest book is The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization (Africa World Press).  He is currently drafting Volume 2 of The Golden Apple, which focuses on the evidence for symptomatic behavior.


[1] Report Brief, U.S. Health in International Perspective:  Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, January, 2013, p.2.

[2] W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Press, 1982.

[3] Reynard Kington, “Black Researchers Getting Fewer Grants from NIH”, NPR Radio, August 19, 2011.

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© Edgar J. Ridley 2012

In a theater of geographic tranquility, we are once again reminded that ignoring symptoms is at our own peril.  It is appalling to consider that the Newtown, CT tragedy could have been avoided had attention been paid to the symptomatic indicators that were present and swirling about.

As was stated in my book, The Golden Apple, it is imperative that symptoms be regarded with the utmost attention in order for change to take place.  Unfortunately, the dynamic being used in every area of people activity is that paying too much attention to the symptoms negates our ability to reach the root cause for problem-solving.  The Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, stated that “strategies that risk addressing symptoms without confronting the larger systemic problem are regrettable.  Treating the symptoms could actually make matters worse.” [1]  Stiglitz is not alone; even President Obama has had this view of symptoms as separate from the real problem:  “If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation.  We have to heal that entire community.” [2]  This historical diagnosis of separating symptoms from the underlying problem has been incorrect, and leads us to the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  As was correctly stated by an MSNBC guest commentator on today’s Martin Bashir show, “They did not pay enough attention to the indicators that were present.  These signs were there but were really ignored.”  Those indicators and signs are in fact, symptoms.

The educator John Dewey stated that “The invention or discovery of symbols is doubtless by far the greatest single event in the history of man.”[3]  Indeed, science has proven that there are only two ways of acting out in this universe – either symbolically or symptomatically.  The conventional assumption is that man must act out both symbolically and symptomatically – which leads to schizophrenia.  The predominance of situations within which signs and symptoms are disregarded can have life-threatening effects.  We can reach into world history for catastrophes that were preceded by very visible symptoms, that were disregarded.  “One of the bedrock characteristics of disruptions is that they are almost never the result of a single failure.  A large-scale disruption is usually the result of a confluence of several factors.  Furthermore, there are typically many signs that a disruption is about to take place.  Like the tremors that precede a volcanic eruption, these tell-tale signs point to an impending catastrophe.  Such signs are often missed or ignored by managers.  But when the conditions for a disruption are present and not addressed, the likelihood of a disruption – even a low-probability one — is not very low anymore.  When the telltale signs start to appear, a disruption may be imminent even though its timing, place, and exact form may be unknown. (Italics mine)”  [4]  Remember, signs and symptoms are synonymous.  Well-known business interruption events with significant indicators are the 1984 pesticide leak in Bhopal, India; the 1986 Challenger Shuttle explosion; the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident; and the 2000 Firestone Tire/Ford Explorer rollovers.

It is quite clear that by ignoring symptoms, catastrophic events can take place at any time and with a huge loss of life.  The failure to heed signs or symptoms is caused by two issues that humans refuse to acknowledge – 1) the inability to face reality due to insecurity and fear; and 2) the inability to deal with reality introduces a symbolic attitude wherein mythologizing is preferred for problem-solving.  Mythologizing a symptom is the sole characteristic of a symbolizing attitude, which makes it easier for a person who refuses to deal with reality to find an exit.  Unfortunately, this phenomenon is prevalent in civilization today in every discipline, particularly race and religion.  A failure to heed these symptoms will have tragic consequences for our civilization as a whole.


Edgar J. Ridley is Chairman of Edgar J. Ridley & Associates, an international management consulting firm.  His most recent book is The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization (Africa World Press).

[1] Joseph E. Stiglitz, “How to Fix the Global Economy”, New York Times, 10/3/06.

[2] Paul Tough, “What Does Obama Really Believe In?”, The New York Times Magazine, 8/15/12.

[3] John Dewey, as quoted in Shadow of the Third Century: A Revaluation of Christianity, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn, p. 85.

[4] Yossi Sheffi, The Resilient Enterprise:  Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage, (Cambridge, MA:  The MIT Press, 2005), 35.

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Copyright 2015 Edgar J. Ridley

It is a fact that the European myth of beauty and attractiveness caused the genocide in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.  The 1995 genocide that took place in Rwanda, in East-Central Africa, was precipitated by European antagonists who created a mythology surrounding physical characteristics.  Although Europeans didn’t explicitly say to the Hutus and Tutsis to murder each other, English explorer John Henning Speke articulated the European point of view, when he stated that: The tall, elegant people with Caucasian features migrated from Ethiopia and are descended from King David.  The shorter people with flat noses are Negroid and come from the South.  The   tall ones have 5,000 years of civilization in their blood, the short ones, a timeless history of backwardness.[1] The “tall, elegant people” symbolize the Tutsis, and the “short, backward people” symbolize Hutus.  This mythologizing of people led to the tragic genocide of one group over another, perpetuated by a European, racist attitude resulting from mythological, superstitious behavior.  The European suggestion of the Tutsi superiority because of their high cheekbones, narrow noses and thin lips, as a symbol of European beauty and attractiveness, exacerbated an already fragile relationship between the Hutus and Tutsis causing the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people.

That European mythology is the same dynamic that informs today’s global fashion industry where the myth of color superiority and so-called European facial features are the rule of the day.  Black models are underrepresented in runway modeling, resulting in friction between models with so-called European features and models with so-called Negroid features.  (We must understand that the term Negroid was created by white anthropologists who were describing the beautiful facial features of sub-Saharan Africans.) It is true that Black Africans come in all colors and all facial structures and features.  What has to be understood is that the global fashion industry’s penchant for a European structure of beauty and attractiveness is caused by symbolism and its resulting mythology and superstition.  This dynamic causes a symbolic-behaving people to automatically mythologize the models based on their physical characteristics.

People who mythologize others are behaving symbolically – this symbolism has caused enormous harm to the psyche of people throughout the universe.  Indeed, this event of symbolism in the human psyche has caused conflict and destruction throughout the world. The above is further explored in my book, The Golden Apple:  Changing the Structure of Civilization – Volume 1 (Africa World Press).  Available on

[1] Excerpted from Edgar J. Ridley, The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization (Africa World Press) 2008.
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©Edgar J. Ridley

                It is well known that the members of the five BRICS nations have the potential to shift global economic power like never before.  These countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have the opportunity to harness wealth that can usher in new economies that will be sympathetic to the so-called developing world.   However, these predominantly non-white nations will succeed in their union only if they are cognizant of the barriers to effective behavior.  The success of the Group of Five will depend not only on their cooperative collaboration but the proposal and implementation of multilateral solutions.   The recent move to deny the  IMF’s request for further financing; as well as their condemnation of the West for the inept management of the global economy following the financial crisis,  are courageous signs that indicate the weight the Group of Five can collectively bring to the table.  [Indeed, these actions are  reminiscent of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in his rejection of the suggestions of the World Bank].  Unfortunately, the group strains that have been reported, although natural in today’s world of global conflict, have the potential to sabotage any forward movement.  The BRICS’ global relevance will be solely dependent on the use of effective, authentic behavioral patterns that lead to the settlement of any internal conflict.  This will produce a united front equipped to solve today’s most complex problems.  

                Indeed, behavior will determine the future of the BRICS.   To change behavior patterns, the BRICS must first change their mindset.   Leaders of the BRICS must understand civilization’s historical dynamics.  When you consider that economic and/or military decisions are based on a mythological framework that emanates from a flawed educational system, it is important that BRICS leaders do not allow their decisions to be informed by symbolic and mythological assumptions.   Changing the mindset requires a transformation that will enable BRICS leaders to understand how the symbol systems from different cultures motivate people to make decisions based on myth.  Today’s global cultural conflicts have their origin in symbol systems as they affect the neurological processes of the human brain, ultimately dictating human behavior.   As noted by neuroscientist and evolutionary anthropologist Terrence Deacon  of the University of California-Berkeley:

“One of the most social symbolic relationships to mediate is peace.  This is not so much because of a conceptual difficulty, but rather because of a high potential and high cost of deception.  The problem of establishing peace after a period of war also demonstrates the importance of the indexical substructure of the symbolic social relationships.  Agreements and contracts concerning future behaviors and obligations are intrinsically symbolic.   Because the referential link between symbols and their objects is indirect, the very same features that make symbolic reference the only means for definitively representing something that is as abstract and virtual as a promise or contract also open the door to misrepresentation and falsehood. The problem lies in determining whether a symbolic gesture for peace is made in earnest, particularly when it comes from a former enemy who in other circumstances may have employed misrepresentation and misdirection as a ploy.”  [1]

Deacon’s assertion describes one of the core problems of symbolic behavior in negotiations.   As I have emphasized with my clients and in my books, symbolic behavior must be eliminated.  Symbolism, the origin of symbolic behavior, is a neurological misadventure of primordial man, and it must be replaced by symptomatic thinking, better known as the Symptomatic Thought Process®.   The customary assumption that focusing on the symptom excludes the possibility of reaching the root cause of the problem is wrong, and has indeed gotten us into countless wars and the economic straits that we are experiencing now.    My  research has confirmed that in order to get to the root cause of conflict, we must undergo a symptomatic thinking process, for symptoms are part and parcel of the original problem.  It can readily be seen that we have been functioning under erroneous concepts since early history.  

                It will be key for the leaders of the BRICS to initiate symptomatic behavior patterns, making all decisions based on symptomatic assumptions, if they are to achieve success.   The Symptomatic Thought Process® is exhibited in my books, the most recent of which is The Golden Apple:   Changing the Structure of Civilization, Volume 1 – it guarantees proper behavior patterns and decision making that will ensure not only a just civilization but a rearrangement of world power that will eliminate the behaviors that produce greed and military phobia that could easily end up in a nuclear disaster.  I call on the leaders of the BRICS to work together productively for optimum effectiveness.  They must be willing to forego any mythological treatment of each other and each other’s ideas.


Edgar J. Ridley is Chairman of Edgar J. Ridley & Associates, Inc., a global consulting firm specializing in behavior change and productivity, with clients throughout Asia and Africa.  His new manuscript, Volume 2 of The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization, is in progress.



[1]  Deacon, Terrence, The Symbolic Species:  The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, W.W. Norton & Co., 1997, p. 403. 

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