By Ekenedirichukwu Anselm Alita
Once upon a time is the famous phrase that launches us into the world of a story. We hear the funny ones and the irritating ones, the good and the bad ones. But all these are stories. Our lives as human beings will always be a litany of stories; the dawn of each day opens up a brewery of experiences that make up stories. Even before we came into the world there have always been stories, the moonlight stories, the folklores, the many stories read to us by parents at bed times. Some of these stories we have swallowed lining and sinker, that even after years of pulling off the apron of childish exuberance, we have forgotten to go back to these many stories we were told as kids and double check them rather than clinging to them like favourite toys.
Our world today is filled with so many unverified stories. A preponderance of these stories are those we were told by parents, or older relatives. For instance in Nigeria, average Nigerians have heard different stories of the civil war; average Nigerians also must have noticed the mutual hatred traded by the three major tribes that make up the Nigerian state, which more less was ossified after the war. This particular story of the civil war have brewed many versions of itself, little wonder our book stores are never short of books that carry this story, all packed with their own sentiments. These stories have led many people especially youths who were not even there when these things happened to see life from the blinkards of these stories. Thus an average Hausa man is already biased about an Igbo, for he sees him as greedy and rude; an average Igbo man is already biased about an Hausa man even on the first meeting, for he considers him haughty and crude; meanwhile an average Igbo and Hausa man consider a Yoruba man as dishonest or saboteurs, thus the name slippery Yoruba.
The problem with stories like the above is that, we all work with preconceived notions or assumptions, even when we are seeing a person from a particular tribe for the first time, we all already made our conclusions about him or her based on the stories we are told. This of course is a problem, for when we are on this pedestal our sense of judgment is beclouded, we can no longer judge a particular case objectively, but we grease it with sentiments. This type of attitude drops a question mark on the purpose of our education.
It is in relation to the above issue that the 19th century philosopher Edmund Husserl, regarded as the father of phenomenology introduced the principle of phenomenological bracketing or EPOCHE
HURSSEL AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL BRACKETING
When we talk about phenomena we are talking about matter. So phenomenology literally means a discourse on matter or the study of matter. The term phenomenology rests on Husserl’s refusal to go beyond the only evidence available to consciousness-namely, phenomena-which is derived from appearances. Here Husserl advocates that before a phenomenon, we should distance or rather detach ourselves and then watch from a vantage angle. This will enable us put off our sentiments, prejudices and preconceived notions about what is before us, and judge only with the factual evidence before us. So he suggests that we bracket any assumptions about external things. He calls this process phenomenological epoche where the term epoche- is Greek word for- bracketing- so in making judgement about a phenomena, there is a need to bracket everything, we stand back from the phenomena of experience and rid our minds of all prejudices, especially the presupposition of the natural science so we make a detachment from any point of view regarding the objective world. for phenomenological bracketing discloses t he greatest and the most magnificent of fact: I and my life remain-in my sense of reality-untouched by whichever way we decide the issue of whether the world is or not Husserl made it of obvious importance that all judgement of phenomenal should be based on evidence and not based on any preconceived notions or presuppositions. So when all these things are put into a bracket, we are left face to face with the object of our experiences and so make an unbiased judgement. By focusing on the phenomena or experience of a thing available to our consciousness, we actually have a better or enlarged description of it. This is because it now involves the real object and our actual perception of it and not as it seems, but as we see it.
RELEVANCE OF HUSSERL BRACKETING IN THE MODERN WORLD
The modern world is built on castles of stories, some of which are unverified. Many slurs have been cast on people because of the stories told about them, thus there is a tendency to begin seeing people from the lenses of these stories without even giving them the chance to tell their own stories, we judge them from the back pack of our prejudices, sentiments and assumptions. The virulent stereotypes that have been sold for ages about Africa is as a result of the failure to bracket off these prejudices and face the reality, for it is said that the easiest way to destroy the identity of a people is to start their story with secondly. But this is what we hardly do because it does not fit the mainstream narrative. A black American by name George Floyd, was on Monday 25 May, 2020 murdered in the US by the Minneapolis policemen. No matter his crime, the way he was murdered was gruesome, a white American wouldn’t have passed through such. This is of course one of the situation were un-bracketed prejudices and preconceived notions overflowed its banks. In June16, 1944, George Junius Stinny, Jr, an African American was convicted, in a proceeding later vacated as an unfair trial, of murdering two white girls, ages 7 and 11, in his home town of Alcolu, south Carolina. He was executed by electric chair, barely 14 years of age. He was the youngest American to be sentenced to death and executed. This is another scenario where the failure to bracket assumptions and prejudices, had its toll.
What do the above teach us, it informs us of the urgent need to apply the phenomenological epoche. The urgent need to detach ourselves and have an unbiased view. The urgent need to bracket our prejudices, sentiments, assumptions and preconceived notions about things so that we could make an unbiased judgement that is based only on facts and evidences and nothing more. So phenomenological bracketing is very important for enables us to engage another individual on a purely human bases, to appraise him with facts and evidences before us, for it is said that when work with facts we’ve stepped into a field of limits. So our impression or opinion about people should not be solely based on others experiences but on our first hand experience. It is not an experienced made with already preconceived notions or assumptions. But that which is done with the clearest of mind and all assumptions and prejudices eclipsed from our minds. This is the sure way of having a proper human encounter. Husserl’s Phenomenological Epoche is really of great importance especially in our modern world awash with many unverified stories about objects, animals place, things and man.
In 2004, a re-examination of the Stinney case began and several individuals and North-eastern University school of law sought a judicial review. His conviction was overturned in 2014; 70 years after he was executed when a court ruled that he had not received a fair trial. The question is, why then did he not receive a fair trial in 1944 only to receive it in 2014? The answer is simple, the principle of phenomenological bracketing was not applied at the first trial that sentenced him to death. This tells us the harm we could cause anytime we fail not to bracket our misconceptions, assumptions, prejudices and preconceived notions in the face of a reality. When we fail to recognize the miracle of a living soul we come in contact with but rip him apart with the talons of religion, race, tribe, country academic qualification and so on. We run the risk of causing more harm than good, others opinion must never be a criteria for judging any reality.