SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
TO THE FIFTH SESSION OF THE EMMANUEL ONYECHERE
OSIGWE ANYIAM-OSIGWE MEMORIAL LECTURE SERIES
LAGOS, 27 NOVEMBER 2003
‘THE COSMOPOLITAN EXPRESSION OF THE GROUP
PATRIOTISM AND THE GROUP MIND
SPIRIT OF THE TEAM; SPUR OF THE NATION.’
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour for me to be able to open the Fifth Session of the Emmanuel Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Memorial Lecture Series, which has as its central theme “The Cosmopolitan Expression of the Group Mind Principle” with the sub-theme “Patriotism and the Group Mind – Spirit of the Team, Spur of the Nation”.
One of the central realities of our species is that we are social animals. The Greeks recognised this more than two thousand four hundred years ago when they observed that “man is a man through other men: outside human society he is either an animal or a god”.
As individuals we are defined by the groups to which we belong.
We have no choice about our membership of some of these groups: as the old saying goes: “You can chose your friends, but not your family”. Neither can you choose the gender or the race into which you are born. Despite the efforts of a tiny number of individuals to change their sex through complex operations, most of us have to live with the gender we arrive with at birth. These involuntary groups are defined by our blood ties and our genetic heritage.
We are also born into national, cultural and religious groups. These associations also play a central role in determining our identity and our worldview – but they can be changed. We can learn other languages; we can convert to other religions and we can adopt the citizenship of other nations. The motivating and unifying force behind such groups is usually faith, loyalty and patriotism.
Finally, we are all involved in a wide variety of voluntary groupings determined by our associations and our interests: the schools and universities that we attended; the clubs or unions to which we belong; the companies or organisations for which we work; and the political parties that we support.
For example, I am a member of an increasingly threatened group: I am a smoker. I feel an immediate affinity with other members of this group as we scurry from aircraft in search of the nearest smoking zone. So, many of the groups to which we belong are defined and motivated by common interest.
One of the central characteristics of groups is their tendency to act in unison in the pursuit or defence of their perceived common interests. This unison can be so pervasive that it often seems to constitute a metaphysical collective mind. Eastern religions have long postulated the existence of a substratum of common consciousness that they claim underlies all human consciousness. They claim that this group consciousness can be activated through meditation or intense common purpose. Karl Jung also postulated the existence of a collective unconscious, a complex of unconscious inherited values and social instincts that lie behind much human behaviour.
The existence of such a collective consciousness or group mind has yet to be scientifically proved. There can, however, be no doubt about the existence of the group unity created by strongly shared group interests, aspirations and threats. Our history is full of examples of the mobilisation of collective will – for good or evil.
We have but to think of the chilling example of the Nuremberg rallies – of how the will of tens of thousands of otherwise good and independent individuals could be regimented and mobilised by evil men. Such mobilisation of the ‘group mind’ lies behind most of the pogroms, crusades and jihads that have afflicted mankind. The recent ethnic slaughter in Rwanda, Burundi and the old Yugoslavia and the fanaticism of Al Qaeda provide stark manifestations of the dark side of group consciousness.
But there is a positive side as well.
Think of the resolute unity of the British nation in their determination to defend themselves against the Nazi onslaught during the Battle of Britain; think of the mobilisation of the enormous resources of the United States from 1941 onwards in its efforts to defeat the totalitarian forces of Japan and Nazi Germany. But think also of the unity of purpose that the Germans and Japanese showed after the war in their single-minded determination to rebuild their shattered nations and economies. In this sense, the group mind did, indeed, provide a spirit of teamwork and a spur to the nation.
The group mind can be mobilised for innocent and praiseworthy causes as well: remember the English supporters at the Rugby World Cup final in Sydney earlier this month? Their singing and cheering was a clear manifestation of their group consciousness. Remember also the ongoing mobilisation of public opinion by churches and charitable organisations throughout the world to promote good causes; to combat diseases and assist suffering people in distant lands.
Group consciousness can be used for good or evil. It is mobilised most frequently when groups are confronted by the perception of a common threat – or when they are united in the pursuit of some great and historic common purpose. The United States is a visibly different society after the threat posed by international terrorism in the wake of the traumatic events of 9/11. The South Africa of 2003 is a very different place from the South Africa of 1983 – after ten years of our common efforts to build a just and non-racial democracy.
The groups into which we are born and which we subsequently adopt provide the framework within which we develop our own personal identities. They provide us with the language through which we first communicate with our family and friends and the concepts by which we first begin to understand our universe; they are the source of many of our core values and attitudes toward life and sometimes even our sense of humour.
However, as a result of globalisation many of the groups to which we belong are under threat. A new international uniformity is developing in many areas, that had previously been characterised by diversity:
- The family unit is under threat. Already, more than 30% of all children born in Europe are born out of wedlock. In most first world societies the extended family has ceased to exist – and an increasingly high percentage of marriages end in divorce.
- In many countries traditional religion is in crisis. In several European countries people now speak of the post-Christian era.
- Our cultures are under threat from the uniformity imposed by rampant Western entertainment and news media. New generations are growing up all around the world who watch the same TV shows as children; who adulate the same pop music and movie idols as teenagers and who follow the same soap operas as adults. Their understanding of the world is increasingly influenced by the same global news networks and commentators.
- It has been estimated that half of the world’s 6 000 languages will disappear during the next century. Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.
We humans are complex social beings who belong to a number of concentric groups. We are individuals. We have gender and sexual orientation. We belong to families. We pursue our economic interests. We belong to clubs and organisations. Many of us have religious affiliations. We often belong to distinct cultural groups. We are citizens of countries and increasingly we belong to the international community.
All of these relationships are important to us – and some are critically important.
For example, I belong to a number of concentric groups. I belong to the De Klerk family. I belong to the Reformed Church. I am a member of a number of private organisations – including a number of golf clubs. I am an Afrikaner. I derive my language, my history, and my traditions and much of my identity from this fact. I am also very proud to be a citizen of the new vibrant and multi-cultural South Africa. Like my ancestors since 1688, I am an African – and I like to think that I am a citizen of the world. None of these groups are – or should be – mutually exclusive.
Our group associations are central to our being. The crucial questions in the new millennium are
- How the family, cultural and religious groups to which we belong will survive the onslaught of the new global consumer mass culture; and
- how people from different ethnic, cultural, religious and interest groups will be able to co-exist in a shrinking, globalising world?
- In 2000 – the first year of the new millennium – 25 of the 27 significant conflicts that afflicted the world were between ethnic, cultural, religious groups within countries: only two were between countries themselves.
- Some of the roots of global terrorism lie in perceptions of the threat that Western liberalism and consumerism pose to fundamentalist Islamic values.
- Widely differing group perceptions and fears also lie at the root of the unresolved crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians.
How can we encourage the positive manifestations of the group mind – the spirit of team and the spur of the nation – while eliminating the dark tendencies of xenophobia, racism and aggression?
I believe that the answer to this question lies in our always retaining a critical perspective of the groups to which we belong. We need to harness the synergy of our common will – but we must never allow that will to sweep us in the direction of darkness and aggression. At all times we must be guided by the positive values of the highest group to which we belong – which, after all, is the human race. These are the values of toleration, justice and compassion – and they are, perhaps, what our hosts have in mind when they refer to the ‘cosmopolitan expression of the group mind’.
We look forward to the debate on these crucial questions, a debate that will be informed by the writings and philosophy of the late Emmanuel Onyechere Anyiam-Osigwe. In particular, we look forward to the thoughts of my old friend Shimon Peres – who throughout his long and distinguished career has fought valiantly to bring peace between contending groups in the Middle East.
It accordingly gives me great pleasure to declare the Fifth Session of the Emmanuel Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Memorial Lecture Series open.