When I first read Mungo Park’s journal, Travel’s in the Interior of Africa, I was 16. I was alarmed by his callous abdication of duty to reason, to that underpinning fundament of human psychology which subordinate everything – but everything to the question of survival. It boggled my mind to fathom a regular human being outfitted with the same base intelligence egregiously making a conscious decision to swim against the coattails of that same intelligence, consequences be damned. I could not see any sense, value or utility in someone throwing their lives away in the name of discovering the source of some alien river thousands of kilometers away from their kings and queens but to the glory of their kings and queens. When Park died in the end, I felt no sympathy for him. Then when I was 28, I read it again. This time, I was sure I understood the difference between the white race and my own.
I once heard an African-American standup comedian summing up this difference thus: “when someone walks into a diner with a gun, the white man will find out what happens there and then and the black man will find out on the news.”
- National grid collapses second time in one month
- PODCAST: Should citizens take up arms to protect themselves?
Isn’t that the truth!
It was hilarious at face value of course, but by then, my eyes had been opened to how all this augurs to the equation of race – so it hurts deep inside. For, why would the white man choose to stand his ground until he sees firsthand, while the black man is content being spoon-fed secondhand insight through the eye of the white man with whatever type of spin.
Reading through the book a second time, I found Mungo Park absolutely heroic. He played and won the game of throats. Because not even the misery of pain, loss or even a little death deterred him in increasing the collection of knowledge that gave his kind the crown of Darwin. Necessity is the mother of invention, and without the efforts of the Mungo Parks of this world, who made traveling into the abyss and surviving a necessity, there would have been no need for the inventions that revolutionised transportation, medicine, telecommunication technologies among others. By theoretical implication, if humanity did not have this kind, it would be much deeper in the doldrums today. This kind takes it upon itself to actually do; do something no one else has done or wants to do, attend to the wildest of imaginations, indulge those faint curious whispers of the mind that precede ideation and creation. They do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard. They get off their butts because this is a game of throats, and even though no one wants the moral agony of having to beat down another living and breathing human being into the ground, when the chips are down you absolutely have to choose between yourself or the second person and you have a moral duty to yourself first before this hypothetical second person. It is called life. Warts and all. Their lot is therefore not to reason why, it is but to do and die. It was not just Park – there were Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Clapperton, Pizzaro, Livingstone, Barth and others. It was not just these few crackpot swashbucklers either, it was an entire system of values, of thought and of perception. It was a whole way of life.
I also realised I have listed and can only think of European great men but that is exactly the point – I did not stay back to find out what happened at the diner now I only know the Euro-centric narrative because the European risked his life and limb to find out for me.
It was daring for instance, for Newton to contemplate the humdrum reality of an apple falling on his head towards the direction of the centre of the earth and not elsewhere. We take it for granted that what goes up always comes down, but it takes courage to see beyond that and challenge this notion by investigating and understanding why.
Every landmark human achievement had bold courage as its silver bullet. Some say that the success of America’s Apollo Programme was driven by America’s vainglorious rivalry against the Soviet Union, not the foregone conclusion of the science behind it. Apparently, even the bigwigs of the scientific community did not actually believe that it would work but that did not stop NASA. Theirs was not to reason why, it was to do and die. Yes, the driving force might have been the ‘before-the-Russians-did-it’ vanity, but even that took boldness. It was an adventure so complex it has not been repeated since then despite the vast technological leaps made since then in computing, rocket propulsion and life support sciences among others. How did they pull it off?
The Hoover Dam built in the 20s in the United States was deemed impractical by contemporary star engineers – it has since been rated the 8th Wonder of the world; The theoretical physicist Peter Higgs worried about ruining his career by publishing his heretical arguments on quantum mechanics but he did it anyway. He has been vindicated by findings at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and won the Nobel Prize.
The point is, we have to wake up. Now. Like our kin from Europe, we have to understand this, play and win the game of throats. We must question reality itself, we must let go of the petty concepts of reality we take for granted because we are so used to their constancy. We must be willing to go to the end of the world and back for the tiniest speck of insignificant knowledge. To the prehistoric man, the answer to the question of survival was protectionism, isolation and conservative instincts. But that question has been re-asked.
And the answer is how the Europeans discovered the world at the Greenwich Meridian, and why we are still stuck behind the eyesores of Ojota.