Choice and the Problem of Ignorance

The following is directly quoted from  “AIDS, Witchcraft, and the Problem of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa” written by “Adam Ashforth”. All rights are reserved for the author, and the original link to the paper can be found HERE. The paper was written in 2001, and what it contains may not be accurate today, though it is significant and relevant.

In a scene replayed tens of thousands of times in recent years in South Africa, a relative appeared at the Khanyile family’s door in the shack settlement of Snake Park on the outskirts of Soweto to inform them of a funeral. A cousin in a town not far off had passed away. A young man in his late twenties or early thirties, the deceased had been sick for some time. In their message announcing the funeral, the dead cousin’s parents specified nothing about the illness, other than to say he’d been sick for some time. The relative visiting the Khanyiles, however, whispered the cause: “isidliso.”

Khanyile and his family took note. They know about this isidliso, otherwise called “Black poison,” an evil work of the people they call witches. Along with whatever treatments the deceased relative would have secured from medical practitioners in his town, they knew without being told that he had been taken to traditional healers to combat the witchcraft manifest in the form of isidliso. All of Khanyile’s family concurred with this diagnosis except one. Moleboheng, twenty seven and skeptical, thought the cousin’s story was “nonsense.”1

“He died of AIDS, obviously,” Moleboheng told her mother after the cousin left. (She is far too polite and sensible to say this in front of the relative, for then the relative would report to others that her family were starting vicious rumors.) Mama Khanyile conceded the possibility of AIDS, although that didn’t necessarily rule out isidliso. Her view was that the AIDS, if indeed it was AIDS, must have been sent by someone. Someone had wanted to see the young man dead and had used witchcraft to send this AIDS or isidliso to kill him. Moleboheng still insisted that was nonsense, as she does whenever her mother starts on witchcraft. In this, as in most things pertaining to witchcraft, the daughter and her family agree to disagree. She knows that within African society at large her way of looking at things is in a distinct minority.


I am using this in my new project to ask an important moral question: Are we free to choose in the light of our stupidity? Do we think that people (like the people in the paper above) should be forced to abandon their beliefs? What about the anti-vaccination movement in US and UK?


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Dear fellow Homo sapiens, or if you prefer conscious mammals! And of course, friends nonetheless: I created my blog in order to speak my very weird mind, mostly about three subjects (as I identify myself and my state of mind with them): Atheism, as I was born in the Middle East and saw and felt the affects of Islam; Homosexuality and equal rights, as a gay man who has tasted the Homophobia and also Sexism in that society; and Liberalism and political philosophy, which I think is a good ground for secular values and criticism of fundamentalism. If you wish, visit and join your state of mind to mine. I hope they don't short circuit!

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