Reading Time: 24 minutes

Discussion vs Assertion:

 We are not alone in this. There are others who, even less fortunate than we, have apparently abandoned the arts of discussion in favour of loud assertion. Less and less do we hear in international affairs, or even in the domestic affairs of older nations, the voices of those who really seek understanding.

And since we are a small, weak country in a world of larger and more powerful ones, we find it difficult to practise discussion. We are almost always threatened into one or the other of the camps of assertion. If we ask too many questions we become suspect. And so the choice lies between enquiry at great cost or acceptance with the reward of patronage and protection. It is not strange that we seem to have chosen the latter course. The great opposing ideologies, each engaged in massive defence, do not like neutrality or middle-of-the-way attitudes. Each justifies itself and accuses the other. Where the great emphasis is on justification and defence, discussion wears thin and creativity is throttled.

Our chances of making a new society by processes of self-examination; by devising institutions more fitted to our needs and circumstances; and, above all, by discovering some new and acceptable criteria of social achievement; are thus handicapped not only by our colonial heritage and our present domestic difficulties; but also by the international environment. This, nonetheless, stands as the greatest and most important of all the challenges that face us in the ex-colonial society, for these analytical and creative enterprises constitute the essence of the process known as ‘de-colonisation’. Above all, the need is for confidence in ourselves, the courage to look where we will, and, taking stock from-our own history and the relevant experiences of others, to build for ourselves in accordance with our newly-calculated needs, priorities, and resources.

Perhaps it should be made clear that to speak of the damages of colonialism and the inadequacies or irrelevancies of the colonial heritage is not necessarily to lay blame on the imperial power. Undoubtedly, certain specific policies and actions were culpable. But what I have been discussing here is the consequence of the relationship between metropolitan and colonial societies; and just as masters, as much as slaves, were affected by slavery so it is not only ex-colonials who now have cause for stocktaking. In the long colonial relationship we came to know our masters very well. Masters sometimes indulge a curiosity about their servants; servants always study their masters. In the colonial relationship there was always the assumption of the inferiority of the colonial: That remains the greatest obstacle to both the ex-colonial arid the ex-imperial societies.

[1] The original version of this paper was read at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London earlier this year.