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'Ways of knowing' in today's Ghana

Wed, 15 Jul 2020 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

During this ongoing voter registration exercise, the tendency to ask people to prove they are Ghanaian has become a contentious matter.

How do you get a Ghanaian or anybody for that matter “rusticated” from a society in which they legitimately belong?

Dr. Kwadjo Afari-Djan, the former chairperson of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, always had a simple approach: “Fill a challenge form but the person in question must have the right to register and go away”.

The challenge form will end up in court where it is expected that they who allege “must prove”.

The convention for those who do not have the requisite documents yet wish to register therefore is to get two persons with valid documents to vouch for them.

Those persons who vouch for others are a source of authority on the subject of your citizenship.

Indeed “Authority” is a source of knowledge, wrote Fred Kerlinger, and several social science research scholars, but that presumably requires faith in authority; expertise and experience should supersede opinion every time.

But which/whose Authority?

On 17 June 2020, on the “Learning Curve” podcast, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not only bemoan Americans’ declining respect for science, he also expressed worry that Americans no longer respected the voice of “authority”.

Since then, he Fauci also appears to have been “rusticated”; his views have been sidelined by government leaders.

Interestingly, when we are initiated or admitted into any regularly ordered society – through baptism, confirmation, the dipo (bragoro) puberty rites, etc, the underlying principle is that the initiate “must be willing to be led by someone who knows what he is doing”, words from my mentor which I always toss in my mind.

In our classroom interactions even when I ask students to read and verify for themselves, they are more than willing to take my word for it.

Yet, I insist on verification lest my loyalists become myrmidons. But more importantly, as my mentor taught me, so that you will “discover your own truths”.

Myrmidons abound in ghana; they act whimsically, recklessly and capriciously, believing in false Authority and powered by groupthink.

They are often led by ignorant and dishonest leaders who have proven time and time again that “they do not know anything or they know very little; certainly not enough”, my mentor again.

Such Authority is dangerous; they can lead societies and even nations to ruin; that is the proper interpretation of “loose lips sink ships”.

William G. Huitt in “Measurement, evaluation, and research: Ways of knowing”, published April 1988 identified and reviewed the four ways of knowing as espoused by Fred Kerlinger, the behavioural science research author.

Of all the “ways of knowing” the scientific method is the best because it is empirical – based on directly observable facts which are then interpreted by reason.

And for my mentor, “The scientific method is a way of life”.

How often do we in ghana bother to apply the scientific method to our way of knowing anything- on our economy, health, sanitation, security?

More often than not we start off with, “I think….” and invariably end up “talking by heart”; simply put, without facts, evidence and reason.

In the current registration exercise, we have been reckless in identifying who is a Ghanaian and relentless in rusticating others.

At the same time our handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been erratic.

It is safe to say that the scientific method is not a way of life for us; it is not an integral part of our way of living.

So what do we really know in this country; do we know anything and how do we know it?

On whose Authority do you speak or act?

Let us always remember that several scientific experiments have documented that for the vast majority of people, systematic thinking is harder to do than random whimsical thinking; most people will rather hurt themselves than think.

If in any doubt, look around you wherever you are in ghana at this time.

May we in knowing always be guided by the right authority along the path of virtue and science.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah