Before going onto the blog, I invite readers to do a quick survey and answer, who finds the Zille-Malema slugfest:
b) Irresponsible politics
c) An embarrassment for South Africa’s international image
d) Stupid but harmless
e) Destructive and creating rifts and resentments among races and parties
f) Other (your opinion)
Thanks. I first want to look at perceptions, humour, evil and context before moving on to Helen Zille and Julius Malema. Here goes.
The Shanghai schoolchildren are laughing and pointing at the large, bald man heaving himself into a taxi. He is struggling to get his legs in and the rear of the car sinks as he sits down in the back of the car and puts down his rucksack.
That person is me and I am in pain, man. I am a gout sufferer, and get it every three or four months on average. Rarely, like now, do I get it in both ankles. I see the children, Chinese children I teach, laughing at my struggles and know they probably find it very funny when the car’s rear end drops considerably as I sit down because of my size, especially by skinny Chinese standards. I feel resentful and embarrassed by the mocking laughter. It is a small loss of dignity, but I shrug it off.
Chinese people sometimes laugh at me. It took me a while to understand the laughing was not necessarily mockery at all. It is more to do with delight and surprise — because Westerners are still a rare species in China — and sometimes nervousness. This got me to thinking about perceptions, hermeneutics, how we mean things. Humour for Chinese is perceived differently. They don’t understand sarcasm and ironic retorts. Give them slapstick. Chinese children in particular roar with approval at the slightest slapstick and sometimes I cannot see the slapstick. If I take my jacket off in class they laugh (Is it my size? They think my shoulders and arms are huge). If I happen to answer my mobile phone in a break between lessons they laugh, even university students. I haven’t figured that one out yet.
But those children laughing at all-important me heaving into the car can be perceived as malicious, as finding pain amusing. I think it was. The children surely knew I was in pain as they saw me hobbling in agony from class to class. Children can be cruel and thoughtless, and it is interesting to note that a love for inflicting pain, watching pain, teasing and mocking seems wired into us from birth, a sort of evil.
My last blog, “On the idea of evil and Zuma”, was an invitation to debate what evil is and the general feeling was that there is no simple definition of evil, that it is contextual, even a matter of perception, which reminds me strongly of one post-modernist movement, deconstruction: all meaning is utterly dependent on context, and contexts are without limit. For example, commentators on that blog suggested soldiers and freedom fighters just do what they are ordered to do and then go back to being good. This is their context: they are evil in war, good in peacetime. I agree with what these commentators say. But their remarks or notions suggest a difficulty. So those soldiers just switched on the “evil” button for a while then switched on the “good” button again? This implies that evil is immanent in all of us, that as Freud or Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness will assert, there is a destructive side to human nature that needs to be constantly restrained.
It is very amusing for me, and I am sure for many others, to watch those two public enemies, Helen Zille and Julius Malema, who seem to hate or despise each other, with little or no restraint sling mud at each other. Some of the comments are vicious. They have no respect for each other. Many of us find the banter downright hilarious and it seems to be a very healthy way for them to handle their hatred, by giving and receiving offensive remarks. (I am most curious about the results of the survey I suggested above.) Do HZ and JM hate each other? Perhaps scorn is a better word.
Of course Zille and Malema are not evil. She is an outspoken politician whom I admire: getting awards like the world’s best mayor doesn’t come undeservedly. I love Malema as our court jester. However, they certainly seem to love to hate each other. I am sure they enjoy coming up with fresh taunts. What is this interesting phenomenon, where we love what we hate? What is its relation to evil?
What makes me shudder about human nature is our fascination with evil. Look at the popularity of vampire movies. Or take the Josef Fritzl incest case. It cost 36 000 euros to ensure there was enough courtroom security and to prevent traffic chaos in the area around the courtroom. Sure, perhaps among the people who just wanted to see this monster there were vigilantes. By the way, I simply could not remember Fritzl’s name and googled “Austrian father incest daughter trial” and was appalled by the incest-porn websites available. The links and “inviting” first paragraphs below the links were sickening, “mother daughter sex” and so forth. My search brought up well over a million results. I did not go to page two as I simply did not want to wallow in the muck. Thankfully, Fritzl came out on the top of page one. The internet has certainly proven the shadow side of humans and puts it on show.
Interestingly enough, Zille, fluent in Zulu, called Malema an inkwenkwe, an uncircumcised little boy. I assume that is a great insult, within the context of Zulu culture, an affront to his manhood. (This is an example of all meaning having context: that insult, aimed at me, would not bother me at all. I am uncircumcised; taunting me with that has no meaning.)
Circumcision — of both sexes — is an ancient practice of the human race, and certainly a ghastly, mutilating ritual (especially the female clitoris) which separates us from the animals. This and other human mutilation rites of passage to gain adulthood/salvation/acceptance have been common human practices for millennia. It is endorsed as a religious practice and the pain is often a rite of passage into adulthood, even being accepted by one or another deity. Yet it can easily be perceived as an evil practice. I doubt our forebears saw it as evil. In the Old Testament there are many instances of the wrath of God burning on people where they may be killed by Him simply because they were not circumcised yet. This can easily be perceived as evil, because that holy wrath is by and large carried out by mere mortals in the name of the deity. Yet the ritual itself in different cultures grants the person salvation, holiness and acceptance into the tribe.
We are a terribly violent species. I certainly agree with Freud and CR Badcock (unfortunate name for a gentleman who specialises in the study of primitive rituals like circumcision) on some aspects of the development of civilisation and the superego to teach restraint of our violent impulses. As per their analyses (to some extent) the bloody rituals of circumcision and other forms of body piercing suggest that the novice is embracing and confronting his destructive nature, owning it, not denying the phenomenon, and, indeed, celebrating it, or as the psychologists and some mystics would have it, befriending the shadow.
So are Zille and Malema befriending their shadows? Celebrating what they are? They certainly seem to be having fun and for me it is great entertainment.
Postscript: I seem to have got it into some commentators’ minds that these blogs are conclusive, inarguable. Not at all. I invite debate, correction, different viewpoints. And my cheek is never far from my tongue.