Morality & Abstract Thinking: How Africans May Duffer from Westerners

“I recall some remarkable discoveries by the late American linguist, William Stewart, who spent many years in Senegal studying local languages. Whereas Western cultures internalize norms—“Don’t do that!” for a child, eventually becomes “I mustn’t do that” for an adult—African cultures do not. They rely entirely on external controls on behavior from tribal elders and other sources of authority. When Africans were detribalized, these external constraints disappeared, and since there never were internal constraints, the results were crime, drugs, promiscuity, etc. Where there have been other forms of control—as in white-ruled South Africa, colonial Africa, or the segregated American South—this behavior was kept within tolerable limits. But when even these controls disappear there is often unbridled violence.”