Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Biopolitics is unmasked

Ufamaka Akeh-Ugah, John Randall and Jennifer Fordjuor

Ufamaka Akeh-Ugah and John Randall of the Department of Mathematics, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York The Bronx, New York and Jennifer Fordjuor, Yonkers, in this rejoinder, expose the fallacies in an article on Biopolitics published on November 12.
The invidious nonsense of Biopolitics by Clyde Ahmad Winters in your issue of 12 November must be addressed and put to rest. The illogical, ill-informed twaddle appears in semi-respectable guise and could mislead the uncritical reader. The article is not an authentic piece of research into problems of Africa. Its claims are deeply insulting to all Africans. We undertake a thorough autopsy of this shabbily fashioned, crypto-racist rubbish.

The tone of the documents is that of the fanatic preaching to the converted. Statements are made in an authoritative manner, but there is no allusion to statistical surveys, studies in which the hypotheses were time tested or any other source of scientific backing. We have a piece of complete fiction clothed in the language of pseudo- science.

If Mr Winters is White then he is a White racist. Mr Winters faults most contemporary African leaders for their "attempt to mimic the attitudes and behaviour of the European colonial administrators who preceded them. "If Mr Winters is not-White then he is a racist who successfully mimics the worst 'European' racists who preceded him.

The article is particularly dangerous because of the chance that the cachet of science will lend it credence in the mind of those who are unable to see that this is not factual or hypothetical work which has stood the test of the scientific method. The hypotheses have not been tested against fact, they have not been logically analyzed, they have not even been clearly and unambiguously stated.


The pseudo-scientific mindset of the author is revealed in intellectually defective techniques which permeate the paper. Specifically, the author misuses words, uses words which are not clearly defined, gives no context or reference for statements, confuses making a claim with justifying a claim, and generalizes without compunction. An example of the author's vapid generalization is his claim: "Today most African leaders lack sensitivity to the demands for justice and caring in their societies." Certainly to be of any use this claim needs a more careful analysis at least a case by case study. Could this be said of most world leaders? What violence it does to the example of leaders who are 'not- guilty', both past and present.

The author repeatedly makes claims and then proceeds on the basis of the claims to advance (often speciously) further claims. This habit of thought is the source of much of the rubbish which he produces. He has failed in the necessity to justify a statement once he has made it. Stating something, however long the words used in doing so, does not make it true.

The author does not cite studies to support his claims, even when such citation is mandatory. For example, he gives credit to the traditional education system of the Japanese for producing "students that surpass the best European students, although they learn the same skills." This statement should not be made without reference to a statistical survey. As is his habit, none is cited by Mr Winters. Not only is the hypothesis dubious; the state of mind which spawned it is befuddled.

Mr Winters occasionally mentions printed works by name, but fails to give sufficient detail to allow one to consult them. He mentions people, but fails to give sufficient credentials for the reader to assess their credibility.

The author uses words incorrectly, one must assume because he doesn't really understand them or because he believes that he will be made more credible by using them. He refers to a statement as "biologically true." Perhaps he means something else, but truth is a logical concept and cannot receive the adjective 'biological.' He mentions "the solid steady-state properties of melanin." This confusion of words from the new technology combines 'steady-state,' ie stable, with 'solid-state' which refers to the branch of physics which produced transistors. We are told that sociobiology is "the hypothesis that much of human behaviour is ethno-centric and shaped by evolution and genes." Sociobiology is a field of study - not a hypothesis. It uses the terms and concepts of biology not those of anthropology such as 'ethno-centric."

The author uses words which are not clearly defined and at times entire passages cannot be made sense of. For example, when speaking of Western educated Africans which he says are often called "African Europeans," he says: "They have become insensitive to the least fortunate of their societies because they are always using logic to find ideas to solve problems that can only be solved by taking measures that may appear unorthodox." This passage defies understanding.

To make the issue more confusing the author later faults these same people since their left brain dominance leads them to "make illogical decisions which make them appear as fools."

Another use of words without meaning is "melanotropins influence the storage of information in the Memory Trade (MT)." Absolutely no explanation is made as to what the 'Memory Trade' is.


A freshman class in Logic might well be set the task of finding logical fault with Mr Winters' argument. We find textbook examples of ad populum, ad authoritatum, ad ignorantium, non sequitur, hasty generalization, and false dichotomy arguments.

Ad populum arguments are of the form: 'As we all know...' The following examples are found in the paper: "It is increasingly being recognized by researchers " "Many political scientists are using… "Scientists in the United States have done considerable research..." As was noted, these are textbook examples.

Ad authoritatum arguments appeal to the authority of a 'big name.' Mr Winters quotes Leopold Senghor, who is truly widely respected for his poetry, political example, and concept of 'Negritude." This does not mean however that statements made by Mr Senghor cannot be questioned. There may, for example, be some new facts which have come to light of which he was not aware. It is not at all clear that Mr Senghor was referring to biology when he said "L'emotion est Negre et la raison helene." As usual with Mr Winters, no reference is given, so we may not study the context.

Further appeals to authority mention Professor Edward O. Wilson of Harvard, Thomas R. Blakeslee, and Dr M. Worthy. Except for telling us that the latter is a psychologist, the author gives no credentials on the basis of which we might judge the weight to be placed upon their statements.

Perhaps their degrees are all honourary-granted by Mr Winters' Uthman Dan Fodio Institute in Chicago?

Ad ignorantium arguments are couched so as to make the reader feel like a fool if he or she does not agree with the stated premise. Mr Winters' form of this mistaken thought is: "It is no secret that... or: "Also one must remember that . . .' " More examples for a textbook. .

Non sequitur translates into the English 'it does not follow.' The entire paper might be characterized as one non sequitur after another, but specific examples illustrate the mistake. The author says: "dark eyes (sic) and skinned people and animals specialize in behaviour that require sensitivity, speed and reactive responses."

Leaving aside the startling claim that dark pigmentation has the same effect on animals as on people, we find that he claims that African people are "very responsive to modelling as a result." The point is that merely stating something in the next sentence does not establish that it is caused by something mentioned in the previous sentence.

Another non sequitur occurs when the author explains that the socialization of the military elites "encourages the development of a corporate identity within the military. Thus the military has a high propensity for political involvement and violence…” The implied link between political involvement and violence is disturbing, but in any case there is nothing to justify such propensities as emanating from 'the development of corporate identity.' Once again, saying something doesn't make it so.

One might also characterize the paper as one hasty generalization after another. One particularly ridiculous example is: "melanic skin groups are more sensitive and socially responsive than light skin types." How do Idi Amin and Albert Schweitzer fit into this scheme?

Mr Winters often sets up false dichotomies, that is claims a clear distinction between two overlapping concepts. As an example: "Education in the Western sense due to its emphasis on reading and writing, rather than skill development Leaving aside the fact that the introduction of written language is one of the great milestones in the development of mankind the unsubstantiated division of we have cognitive skills into reading and writing on one hand and unspecified "skill development" on the other.

Many of the author's claims are related to the mistaken division of humankind into those who are calls them "reactive"). In fact very few people are not somewhat inhibited in their reactions. Rousseau's 'noble savage' may be the last known completely uninhibited human and of course, he was completely fictional.

This textbook analysis becomes tedious, but it is necessary to point out that Mr Winters is simply not thinking straight. Even worse, he makes statements which are completely wrong - blatant errors of fact.


The claim is made that African leaders spend years getting a Western education. In fact, most of them are not really well educated. Those who are tend to be more accommodating to the needs of the people.

The author's claim that African languages do not frequently put two consonants together is nonsense. Most African languages were not written until relatively recent times when they have been transcribed in Arabic or European letters or the International phonetic alphabet. One may not really say where the consonants go or what they signify in an African context.

Arabic is a Semitic language, not an African one as Mr Winters implies. It is not true that there is "drug addiction among Africans in higher number than among Europeans," unless perhaps we are discussing Mr Winters' area of Chicago.

It is nonsense that melanin is "capable of absorbing light (and sound) and converting it into electrical energy." Nor is it "a super-conducting plasma." Further falsehoods are that melanin controls "practically all forms of human behaviour, especially learning" and the reference to "the ability of melanin to bind consciousness influencing drugs." "it takes drugs longer to breakdown in blacks than in whites."

Mr Winters cannot support these statements with references to experimental proof because there is none. The statements are pure rubbish.


Much of the wrong-headedness of Mr Winters' thought is based upon his misstatement, understatement, or total failure to understand the actual problems which ought to be discussed and researched.

For one thing, the author is engaged throughout the paper in a discussion of bio-politics.' Yet, despite his constant injection of biology he refers to groups of people by geographically based labels, ie, African and European. Not all Europeans have more melanin in their body than Mr Winters' world- view would allow. To be consistent he should use biologically based labels to describe groups of people and more properly state his 'bio-political' thesis.

Troubled times are found in Chinese, European, Roman, Greek, Turkish history as well as in the Third World, both pre- and post-colonial. The author fails to consider that perhaps African countries are now in what may be a natural stage. Certainly, we should consider history in studying todays' problems.

Culture shock is a real, enduring problem of individuals as well as of peoples or countries trying to come to grips with a world situation in which their previous traditional culture is no longer solely descriptive or reality. From such shock may emerge more prescient, tolerant individuals-true world citizens with multi-cultural, multi-lingual advantage. When not ignoring this phenomenon, Mr Winters dismisses it as the symptom of a half- atrophied brain.

We are told that blacks are reactive and whites are not - but then we are told that the problems of "Africans who are left brain dominant" come from increased reaction time due to left brain growth.

Mr Winters has completely missed the numerous influences which Africans have had upon European Music and Art. Many 'world-class' intellectuals, diplomats and international civil servants from the Third World have enriched and enhanced 'Western' culture.

In counseling Africans to withdraw from Western influence and so right themselves, he fails to understand cultural, social, political, and economic interaction in the modern world. Whereas, in the past, one might take power in a nation and rule in virtual isolation from the rest of the world, modern economics and technology force one into international trade in goods and ideas whether one will or no.

The extremely complicated problems of leadership in African countries are explained away by Mr Winters as the result of:

1) atrophy of the right brain of most contemporary leaders in Africa has reduced their "right brain's ability to give them warmth and sensitivity."

2) "melanin's enhancement of modeling behaviour in Africans may be behind the ruthless, and cold- blooded behaviour..."

This is most simplistic, a disservice to those who are seriously interested in the problems of the Third World, and extremely insulting to all Africans.

When the author says that "human behaviour is the result of interaction between chemicals and electricity," he portrays man as a puppet of circumstance. Free will, ethical, moral or religious choice are denied. Self- control, which he praises elsewhere, can be of no import in such an equation. This is the philosophy of a man seeking to explain away the unsatisfactory behaviour of some humans by blaming it upon a purely external electro-chemical reaction. Any conclusions drawn from such a base must necessarily be of absolutely no use in helping a person to decide what he or she ought to do in the political or any other sphere.


The theses of bio-politics may be refuted from within the bounds of the paper itself. Not being closely reasoned, it is full of internal contradictions.

The author says that biology and its effects are inherent, but learning is clearly an external functional process. How then is behaviour determined from within or from without? Mr Winters would have it both ways. He speaks of "genetically determined influence, that is turned on by certain cultural conditions.

We are told that blacks are reactive and whites are not - but then we are told that the problems of "Africans who are left brain dominant" come from increased reaction time due to left brain growth.

The geometry of the brain is confused. We learn from Mr Winters that "In the left brain we find written and verbal language...", but we also learn that "". language and the language-based logical functions are all housed in the right hemisphere." If as we are told "in the right brain we produce vowels while in the left we create consonants," then must we not all exercise both halves?

If the right brain dominant people "pattern their behaviour on their emotions," how does it follow that "most great scientific advances in the West are made by right brained people? Genius and creativity may aide scientific advance, but certainly it is not patterned on emotion.

Melanin, according to the author, helps people to "specialize in behaviour that require (sic) sensitivity, speed reactive responses." We are then told that this "helps African people to be very responsive to modeling." (by which he means mimicking) Now certainly such characteristics would incline one not to mimic (which is a poor reaction), but instead to quickly, sensitively create a more suitable response.

In the case of the Wayward Student who carried an illegal number of naira into Nigeria, Mr Winters would have us see how "Heighten (sic) speed of reaction within Africans who are left brain dominant can lead them to make illogical decisions which make them appear as fools." But wait a minute. He finds the judge is the illogical fool for he "totally followed the law." Perhaps the student is a friend of the author.

It seems that the problem is that in Africa "most leaders are clearly lacking in self-control" but Mr Winters says that the left-brained are self-paced?

"But in Africa, traditionally the Ruler ruled by consent of the people, and was replaced once he stepped out of bounds" "... the African military tradition was to alienate African soldiers from the masses so they would lose their tribal ties, and so kill their own people when called upon." The description of African military tradition is false, except perhaps in Chicago. Were it true, the statements would be contradictory.

Finally, the befuddled concepts of the paper are nicely revealed: "emphasis on foreign methods of education and training and non- African political traditions has led to reliance on the left brain among most contemporary leaders in Africa." Now, you can't have it both ways which came first? Did left brain dominance bring about the political situation, or did the political situation bring about left brain dominance?


Clyde Ahmad Winters writes in the tradition of the worst of the armchair anthropologists. What he says is of no relevance to the African world except to explain away why there are more black than white drug addicts in Chicago. By deflecting serious discussion and deluding the unwary his work is a disservice.

Mr Winters, for his own good should leave Chicago and spend five years living in Africa. His first assignment in remedial civics is to study African military tradition. He is to follow this with extensive transliteration of African languages, keeping careful count of the numerous pairs of consonants. This remedy will help us all for it should free space in the media for serious discussion.

talking drums 1984-12-03 Ghana a government of part timers Nigeria press-government relations