A contribution by C. Companyero
In our society we are obviously ruled by an elite who use the State machinery to their advantage. They dominate the political sphere, command the police and judiciary to intimidate us to cooperate with their hegemony (rule). Clearly it would be impractical for them to have to enforce every instance with violence like they did no 20 July 2011. They use smaller scale violence to intimidate us: the judiciary and police pick out people who obstruct the power of the ruling class, and either abuse them or lock them up in a jail. Often both.
Still this is a costly way of subjugating the population, and it is much more effective to colonise our minds. This was done effectively by the colonisers, in our case the British. They set up a system of society that would be easy to dominate. To infiltrate our minds at an early age they commanded the education system. Disparities were dealt with violently if needed.
When Dr Hastings Banda took power over from the British he immediately used the existing system to consolidate his power over the population, and the differences between British colonisation and Banda’s colonisation were mostly that the oppressor now was indigenous African. (He even cooperated with the white apartheid regime in South Africa!)
Banda kept a close reign over the media, the education system, and all economic operators. Especially the first two colonise our minds. He decided to keep the British system of education, which served the hegemony so well. We are still mostly taught according to a British school system annum 1964. Take in the knowledge that the teacher imparts, do not question authority, and regurgitate the texts at an exam.
The (middle class) media keep on dispensing the same kind of cultural system in the name of peace, democracy and public order. This keeps us from revolting to demand our constitutional rights and human rights. The hegemony is only complete when we as population cooperate with our own oppression. This is called cultural hegemony.
Cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the culture of that society—the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores—so that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm; the universally valid dominant ideology, which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.
In our former colony cultural hegemony (dominance) is derived from the coloniser’s cultural imperialism: the cultural domination, by a ruling class (formerly the coloniser himself, now their puppets: the indigenous ruling class), of a socially stratified society. By manipulating the dominant ideology (cultural values and mores) of the society, the ruling class can intellectually dominate the other social classes with an imposed worldview that ideologically justifies the privileged position of the ruling class as if it were a natural and normal, inevitable and perpetual state of affairs that always has been so.
In our society, cultural hegemony is neither monolithic intellectual practice, nor a unified system of values, but a complex of stratified social structures, wherein each social and economic class has a social purpose and an internal class-logic that allows its members to behave in a way that is particular and different from the behaviours of the members of other social classes, whilst co-existing with them as constituents of the society.
As a result of their different social positions, the classes will be able to coalesce into a society with a greater social mission. When a man, a woman, or a child perceives the social structures of ruling class cultural hegemony, personal common sense performs a dual, structural role (private and public) whereby the individual person applies common sense to cope with daily life, which explains (to him/herself) the small segment of the social order that each experiences as the status quo of life in society; “the way things are”. Publicly, the emergence of the perceptual limitations of personal common sense inhibit the individual person’s perception of the greater nature of the systematic socio-economic exploitation made possible by cultural hegemony. Because of the discrepancy in perceiving the status quo—the socio-economic hierarchy of ruling class culture—most men and women concern themselves with their immediate (private) personal concerns, rather than with distant (public) concerns, and so do not think about and question the fundamental sources of their socio-economic oppression, and its discontents, social, personal, and political.
The effects of cultural hegemony are perceptible at the personal level; although each person in a society lives a meaningful life in his and her social class, to him and to her, the stratified social classes might appear to have little in common with the private life of the individual man and woman. Yet, when perceived as a whole society, the life of each person does contribute to the overall cultural hegemony of the ruling class. Because social diversity, economic variety, and political freedom appear to exist — because most people see different life-circumstances — they are incapable of perceiving the greater hegemonic pattern created when the lives they witness coalesce as a society. The cultural hegemony is manifested in and maintained by an existence of minor, different circumstances that are not always fully perceived by the men and the women living the culture, or are justified according to the mores of the hegemonic culture.
This is where the intellectuals have a role to play. Intellectuals exist in two kinds:
- traditional intellectuals who uphold the hegemonic culture and who are by far the most numerous
- organic intellectuals who come from the oppressed classes and stay with their brothers and sisters. Organic intellectuals have the capacity to educate the oppressed to the real causes of their misery and subjugated lives.
In perceiving and combating cultural hegemony, the smallholder farmer class, and the (much smaller) wage labourer class depend upon organic intellectuals produced by their society. Since the various categories of traditional intellectuals (administrators, scholars, teachers, theorists, clergy, etc.) experience through an “esprit de corps” their uninterrupted historical continuity, and their special qualifications, they thus put themselves forward as autonomous and independent of the ruling class. Think of political scientists, the PAC, civil society operators. All of these comment on different aspects of ruling class actions, but do not question the set up of society as a whole. The challenge with this position is that the society as it is now (the status-quo) has produced these different strata of society and without far reaching developments in the set-up of society it will remain producing the horrifying levels of inequality that are dogging our society and the world as a whole.
The traditional (vulgarized) type of the intellectual is given by the Man of Letters, the “well educated”. Therefore, journalists, who claim to be Men (Women) of Letters, also regard themselves as “true” intellectuals.
In the modern world, technical education, closely bound to industrial labour, even at the most primitive and unqualified level, must form the basis of the new, organic, type of intellectual. The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist of eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor and organiser, as “permanent persuader”, not just simple orator.
We need a new type of activist/theorist who, independently of strings-attached-foreign-funding will identify with the oppressed classes, here in Malawi mostly the small holder farmer. Who will educate, and learn at the same time. Who will practice the praxis, and teach according to new methods, interactive methods, effective methods that overcome the conditioning of the ruling-class dominated school system that has been holding Malawians back for so long. We do not need the traditional schools, but we need new, interactive situations to develop a revolutionary consciousness in the population.