Why are Africa and African people at the bottom of the world order, when Africa gave the world its first civilisation, created the first religion, sciences and all of the high technology now in use? That is the question which Edgar Ridley sets out to answer in this short book. Unfortunately, Ridley fails to provide anything like a satisfactory answer in what must be described as a fairly tortuous mental ramble, managing instead to convince even the most sympathetic reader that the search for an answer to Africa's problems will have to be carried on elsewhere than in this book.
Ridley's basic thesis is that Africans are at the bottom of the world order because of their propensity for what he calls "symbolic thinking". This would not necessarily be an unacceptable beginning, except for the fact that Ridley never seems to manage a definition of what he means by "symbolic thinking". At best he simply musters up a contrast with what he calls "symptomatic thinking" and proceeds to use these contrastive terms throughout the book as though their meanings were transparently clear to everyone. But such clarity is not in fact universally shared and, by failing to define his terms from the outset, Ridley does precious little to get his argument off the ground. That, in turn, leaves the development of his thesis difficult to follow and his conclusions virtually impossible to accept, however attractive they might appear.
Ridley's thesis is also difficult to accept because of the nature of his supporting evidence and his frequent misuse of it. Early on he tells us that Africans have a propensity for symbolic thinking because of their high melanin content. Melanin is the pigment which gives skin and hair its characteristic dark colour.
"In scientific research," he says, "it has been concluded that Africans, due to our high melanin content, developed an extraordinarily elaborate symbol system around their whole existence". He adds "melatonin increases the flow of unconscious memory from the deeper levels of the mind-brain up to the cortex for conscious expression, which has a tendency to produce a situation where an elaborate symbol system is allowed to develop". Having told - but not shown - us that this process actually does take place, Ridley concludes that "these neurological processes are the beginning of a symbol system that causes symbolic behaviour". And it is this symbolic thinking and behaviour, he further claims, that have wrought disaster for Africa and...