Abstract : Ideas for public and private sector initiatives in provision of basic infrastructure, to the arts, science, technology and business in Nigeria
Thanks to Edwin Igue, on Edo-nationality Yahoo group, for this challenge.
What I have to say right now is quite basic and some of it has has been stated before.
We need electricity, available in every city, town and village and readily affordable by the average Nigerian.
How do we do it? Public-private sector partnership as I understand the government is already developing?
What sources are most affordable?
The Nigerian Energy and Power Summit, set for Novemberr 2012, will address such issues.
How valuable would it be too look into widespread solar energy use, particularly with the kind of climate we have, with abundant sunlight? I understand India has a scheme where even people with little or no English literacy can be taught to assemble solar energy equipment. Solar power development in India seems to be in high drive. The Indian newspaper report Germany Charges Ahead in Solar Power describes the economic strategies that lead the writer to describe Germany as the world capital of solar power in spite of its climate. This initiative is government driven.
Is there not a business opportunity here supplying such outfits to households, easily assembled?
I came across an English solar engineer, Graham Ford of Heliodynamics, who is convinced he has a workable scheme whereby African homes can afford cheap and efficient solar energy.
Water is one of the basics of human existence. We need drinking water in every house, in every city, town and village. What engineering schemes do we need to achieve this? The scope of such a project suggests that the government needs to be involved. Can a private-public initiative address this?
This will require possibly a ten year scheme or more to achieve throughout Nigeria. Pipes will need to be laid and other relevant construction performed. All new housing must get approval in accordance with plans that enable each new house to be placed om a record and schedule for connection to the water supply.
All educational institutions, from primary to tertiary must have free Internet access. At the very least, this access should be be paid for from fees and school subventions. The Internet is the home of the most prominent modern innovations in communication and business. Early exposure is almost desperately critical for shaping the mind to enter the 21st century. The innovations that define the 21st century emerge in relation to information technology. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, in my view. All these companies were founded by university students while still at university. Microsoft and Facebook while their founders were in their second year at Harvard, Google and Yahoo while their founders were graduate students at Stanford.
Every home must have the option of being linked to the Internet. This will greatly help Africans cross the knowledge barrier created by print technology in book production, where Nigeria is far behind the avalanche of information represented by the Western publishing industry and steadily being developed by India which has companies that publish and sell globally in a wide range of titles.
The Internet is also vital to mass literacy and general information sensitivity. It is also crucial to developing a democratic culture, as evident from its role in the Arab Spring.
How can this be achieved?
I understand the GlO-1 cable link from the UK to Nigeria has driven down connection prices. Internet connection companies should be motivated to work with both the government and private companies to provide access at the cheapest possible cost in the name of increased revenue from greater market share as well as its being a national emergency. The company that can persuade any university to provide free access to its students is likely to reap huge profits.
Cheap and affordable laptops should be placed within the reach of every Nigerian, from the youngest age of being active to the oldest active age. Computer literacy is a basic literacy of the world as from the 21st century.
I understand various companies are developing and selling such very cheap laptops. Solar powered laptops would be preferable. There is plenty of profit waiting in this for investors.
There is an urgent need for ready access to sophisticated knowledge in all disciplines, keeping in touch with global developments in all fields. Nigerians are committed to education but the demand is not commensurate with the level of access to sophisticated knowledge on account of the gap between the Nigerian social, education, business and industrial system and the level of development of knowledge reached by modern societies in the West and Asia. Academic books, which often contain the most sophisticated knowledge, are often expensive, even in the West.
This can be addressed by a number of methods. One is for publishers to buy the license to republish those books in Nigeria at cheaper prices, using cheaper materials, as Indian publishers do at present .
Another approach is to develop further the indigenous writing industry for academic literature. This can be done by commissioning scholars, not all of whom are necessarily academics, but who are likely to be academics, to write books. The publisher will pay the scholar to write as well as pay them a percentage of proceeds from the book. A publisher could invest in a library of the most recent literature in the relevant fields of interest and subscribe to academic databases like JSTOR and Web of Science that archive huge numbers of journals. These resources could be housed in a research center owned by the publisher which the writers would use for their research. Such a centre must have a pool of very efficient computers with the fastest Internet access possible to facilitate research.
Such books could fall into two categories. Textbooks that define the nature of a field of knowledge and books that represent new ground in particular fields or various fields. Textbooks make money because they are basic required reading which students need to pass their exams at the very least.
There is plenty of money to be made in Nigeria and I expect, Anglophone Africa, from textbook publishing on account of the book gap between Africa and the West. I was able to verify this in the Department of English and Literature at the University of Benin during the early 2000s when I still taught there. I produced booklets targeted at making easier to understand the material in the subjects taught. These booklets were produced with basic printing technology but those I offered for sale all sold out. I did not have to coerce anybody to buy. All I needed to do was convince the students they needed my books. I achieved this by direct marketing, asking students what they needed help with and writing books accordingly. Such an initiative can be marketed in all Nigerian universities, producing one textbook for one subject and later expanding to other subjects. All you need to do is find out what courses span the entire academic curriculum in a subject in the entire country and produce books accordingly at affordable prices. Then market them in such away that students are aware of the existence of such valuable books at locations they can access easily. Students at the very least want to pass their exams. So I expect they will buy those books.
Another approach is to use audio and audio visual technology in presenting educational information. The Open University in England is already doing that.
Of course, all books should be available in electronic and print format. The electronic format should be such as should be read by convenience on both a mobile phone, other hand held electronic devices, as well as on computers and smaller electronic display equipment. The text should also be accessible though voice, in terms of a voice reading out the text instead of one having to read it, so as to provide options of engaging with the text by by reading or audio reception.
These variable formats are likely to increase market penetration on account of greater convenience in carrying information collections about with one, as well as the ubiquity of cell phone use.
The second kind of book representing sophisticated information is one directed at developing new knowledge in the relevant field. Such books push back the frontiers of knowledge or even reshape bodies of knowledge. They are not expected to make money at the same pace as textbooks that sum up the field but their contents eventually filter into textbooks when they have become central to the discipline. Such works also motivate economic and social development because their impact on the world of learning motivates students to come from all over the world to study at the institutions where the people whp wrote such books work or consult with the people who wrote those books.
Such inflow of students in turn creates an income flow to those institutions as well as to the communities where they are located. These students will pay for food, housing, transport, among other necessities. They could also remain behind to feed the host communities through setting up initiatives of their own and taking up employment in the local institutions. Such developments have been central to the development of the US in various fields. Such books can be funded by profits from more basic, faster selling texts. It would be useful to find out the funding strategies for such books by academic publishers, particularly those not enjoying university subventions, like Routledge and Brill.
Entertainment : Nollywood
Nollywood is likely to be the most powerful investment industry of Nigeria that demonstrates creative originality, being even more valuable for being in private hands. At the moment, its limitations are likely to ensure limitations in its fan base, in my view, in spite of its massive level of production and market penetration beyond Nigeria.
There is an urgent need to invest in diversifying the kinds of films produced in Nollywood as well as the sophistication of the films produced. This would benefit from investing in more sophisticated equipment and training of those who participate in films. A film village incorporating training school/s among other resources, would be priceless. I am informed there is a film school in Calabar. there can be more. There is money to be made from such a venture by investors. Students can be trained on site, trained by invited teachers from the better established film industries in the West and Asia, invited to teach for short periods and also trained through internships in those film industries abroad.
The ripple effect of a Nollywood that becomes a fully global brand operating at the level of such planet penetrating films as the Matrix, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings etc would have an incalculable effect on the Nigerian economy and Nigerian society. .
Science and Technology
Development in science and technology involves not simply the appearance of scientific and technological products in a society but the development of the skill to produce those achievements by members of that society and for those skills to be demonstrated within that society, and demonstrated in a manner that is self sustaining and self perpetuating across generations.
For now, I am aware of two major approaches to development in science and technology.One of those approaches is developing expertise through learning directly from experts and institutions that demonstrate skill in those fields. Such experts and institutions are situated both within and outside Nigeria. Such learning could involve studying them within an academic or research environment within or outside Nigeria. I understand this approach was central to the contribution to Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear technology by Abdul Qadeer Khan taking his knowledge and skill from a Western nuclear energy research centre to his native Pakistan, as well as Khan's description as being central to a nuclear proliferation ring selling nuclear energy materials to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Another approach is through self training outside institutional structures. This approach has been central to the development of Western science and technology in its foundational stages, as evidenced by the fact that a good number of inventors worked outside institutional contexts, in solitary work or in groups of like minded informally organized people. Examples of these are the Wright brothers, who invented the first successful airplane and made the first 'controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight'.
It is vital that both approaches be nurtured by both the government and private investors. Investors could identify researchers and inventors who have developed such breakthroughs and fund their work, with profits shared between investors and the researchers and inventors. Such investments would need to be carefully managed on account of the need to break even. Breaking even will depend to a large extent on the cost of overheads like energy sources, and the cost of constituent products in manufacturing these new products. To facilitate this, a bill could be sponsored to reduce or eliminate import tax on products central to the national development emergency. Such products could include anything related to developing or applying technologies.
It is also useful to create centres of innovation, where material resources as well as access to funding can be provided by matching scientists and inventors with prospective financiers, a model central to the success of Silicon Valley. I understand something similar, though not as comprehensive, is already in existence in Lagos and the Lagos state government is planning more using a similar idea.
The Nigerian writer and social activist Wole Soyinka's insistence that the terrorism of Boko Haram is the unanticipated outcome of Nigerian support for Islamic extremism in Northern Nigeria as well as the direct expression of the ambitions of some disgruntled Northern politicians has sparked various kinds of response. Some of these have been dismissive, particularly coming from some commentators from Northern Nigeria.
Soyinka being a writer as well as a social activist may evoke questions about the significance of literature and the arts in building modern societies, particularly in the face of the development challenges faced by Nigeria, since one view holds that modern societies are built on the foundations of science and technology. I examine briefly the nature of science and technology, relate them to Nigeria's most pressing development challenges, and compare the roles of various Nigerian institutions in contemporary Nigerian development. Science, Technology and Nation Building
No society has ever been built primarily on science and technology.
To claim that modern society is built on science and technology is to demonstrate a superstitious attitude to science. To argue that what African countries need to become modern societies is advances in science and technology is to demonstrate a superstitious reverence for science, rather than an understanding of the role of science in building societies. Such superstitious attitudes, based on ignorance on the nature of Western social management and modernity may be partly responsible for African backwardness, even in the face of long standing misguided reverence for science.The fact is that modern societies are based partly on the management of science and technology not on science and technology.
What is Science?
Science can be understood in a broad and a narrow sense. The narrow sense involves the study of the physical character of the universe using methods that can be replicated and assessed by others adequately skilled to do so. In that sense, we have sciences that deal with living and non-living systems, such as physics, chemistry and biology, as well as sciences that straddle both, such as mathematics. I expect Abba is referring to the narrow meaning in his focus on physics, chemistry and medicine.
The essential scientific character of such disciplines is not in their subject matter but in the manner in which they address that subject matter, as Dominic Ogbonna observed in this debate. Over the centuries and even now, various disciplines engage with those same subjects without being understood as scientific.The broad understanding of science is in the adaptation of critical methods associated with science to other disciplines. In doing that, however, it is vital to observe broad variations between the character of living and non-living systems , and broad variations within the character of living systems. Along the lines of adapting scientific methods to a broader range of disciplines, there exist the social sciences of economics and sociology, and even linguistics, described as the scientific study of language.This broad understanding is better understood, not as science, but as the adoption of a critical method to the study pf phenomena. The success of modern Western society is in the adoption of critical methods, not on science, in terms of the physical sciences like physics, or the biological sciences like human biology. The more specific physical and biological sciences and the more general sciences like mathematics are adapted within a social system based on critical understanding of phenomena, particularly the large scale social systems represented by societies. The success of modern Western society is a demonstration of skilled social management, among other factors that made this quality of social management possible in the first place.
What is Technology?
One could describe technology also in a narrow and a broad sense. In the narrow sense, it can be described as the practical application of science, particularly in the creation of instruments. The narrow sense involves the metaphorical adaptation of the idea to involve management of knowledge in general.
I expect Abba is referring to the narrow meaning in his focus on physics, chemistry and medicine. Abba insists that African societies, particularly Nigeria, need to be based on science and technology in order to succeed.
Contemporary Nigerian Development Challenges
Let us run through contemporary Nigerian social/ development challenges and try to see what role science and technology could play in addressing them. My argument will be that science and technology are useful but as methods and insights managed by social managers, not always using the tools and knowledge of the sciences in their core sense. Such social management is not based on physics or mathematics, or biology and medicine, but uses these disciplines to achieve the overarching goal of social management. I also also compare and contrast the Nigerian institutions represented by the oil industry, banking and Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry.
Security of Life and Property
A central challenge in contemporary Nigeria is security of life and property on account of the presence of terrorism, primarily from Boko Haram but also from MEND. Also critical in security challenges is the scourge of kidnapping.
Islamic and Political Terrorism of Boko Haram
The progress made against Boko Haram so far has been though information sourcing and tracking of their members. The role played by science in the sense of the specialized skills of particular scientific disciplines has been in the use of electronic tracking technology through which the terrorists' phones were tracked. Technology also played a role in the weapons used in battling the members of the sect. Does the use of technology in these two forms imply that these successes are due to the use of science and technology? Only partly so, beceause the anti-Boko Haram operation necessarily involves a broad range of methods of which the use of electronic tracking technology and physical weapons are two factors. I expect the operation involves information sourcing by word of mouth from informants among members of the communities where Boko Haram members live. If the fight against Boko Haram is to succeed, such intelligence gathering from within the community needs to be intensified. The fight against Boko Haram needs to won primarily in the hearts and minds of Nigerians, which is the core arena of the war the sect has unleashed on the nation. The sect is seeking to prove to Nigerians that it represents a parallel government that embodies the aspirations of Northern Nigeria. That effort will fail when Northerners can be decisively convinced that Boko Haram represents only themselves and the pauperisation of the North. When people are convinced that they have more to lose than to gain by keeping silent about people suspected or known to be Boko Haram members, and that they are protected in revealing them to the government, then the fight is being won. Until then, even if this group is suppressed, another one might emerge in its place, as has been the pattern for some time in Northern Nigeria, from the pre-Maitasine era to Boko Haram.
Education, Marriage and Religion in Northern Nigeria
Even after this stage of terrorism in Northern Nigeria is addressed, what is to be done with the region's educational and other social problems that make it a flash point for recurrent social upheavals? There seems to be an educational crisis in Northern Nigeria, with the Islamic educational system favored by many being ill equipped to manage the transition to a modern society. How is that to be addressed? Such issues seem to me to be more in the realm of educational theory and practice and politics, than physics, chemistry, medicine or any of the traditional sciences. What about the issue of the marriage of very young girls, creating a ground for severe physical problems on account of the immaturity of the girls' bodies, removing them from the educational system and severely limiting their opportunities to operate productively in the work place, and ultimately swelling the ranks of the poor? How is the religious background of this practice in the marriage of the prophet Muhammad to a pre-pubescent girl to be addressed?
Northern Nigerian Economy
What about the economies of the Northern states?
Some have called for greater reliance on indigenous wealth generation, as different from depending on oil revenue from the central government. How is this economic transition to be managed? I don't get the impression that physics, chemistry, medicine or any of the traditional sciences is going to be the knowledge base to be used. They can be adapted to the task but those who run those systems must be competent in a range of knowledge and skills, from economics, to social psychology and politics.
How do we address the kidnapping problem?
Part of the problem must be economic. Another could relate to a sense of injustice projected by an awareness of corruption. It is also crucial to identify and destroy the kidnapping networks. How are people to be enabled to gain employment without unnecessary difficulty? How can the cost of living be significantly reduced to make life easier and crime less compelling? How can the corruption be reduced significantly and hopefully eliminated so that people are less prone to consider themselves justified in using desperate methods against a society they see as having betrayed them? How can the kidnapping networks be identified and destroyed? Addressing these questions would span a broad range of skills that go beyond such sciences as physics, chemistry and medicine.
Another challenge is energy, particularly the generation and distribution of electricity, this being critical to running a modern economy and society and to business and research in all fields.Power generation is a demonstration of science and technology. Is Nigeria failing in achieving this basic task adequately because of a lack of scientists and engineers or because of inadequacies in the allocation of resources and their application to the task at hand? Can such failures of allocation and implementation be corrected by science and technology or do they operate in the more shadowy zone of political vision and commitment to the nation rather to political cliques?I don't get the impression that having skilled scientists running the country or even running the power and steel ministry automatically translates into efficient management of these resources. Such skill is necessary but is it the absence of such skill that has led to the country not being able to account for the huge sums of money allocated to developing the refineries and to Nigeria being largely an importer rather than a processor of its own oil? What role does the county and its indigenised companies play in oil exploration and extraction? Are the limitations of the country in this area due more to lack of skilled personnel than to inadequate political will and planning to develop and equip such personnel in the first place?
Nollywood, the Nigerian Film Industry
As it is, the only Nigerian industry in which its citizens demonstrate originality that enables them stand out as group in the global community and earn significant income for the nation on that basis is is Nollywood, an example of the very story telling that Abba derides as not being central to developing a modern society. This is the only industry in which Nigerians as a group demonstrate originality. It is also the most visible original export of the nation. I expect it is the highest foreign exchange earner of the nation from any original achievement of its citizens.
The Nigerian Oil and Banking Industries
The Nigerian oil industry, as far as I know, is largely a buying and selling industry. Selling crude oil, buying processed petroleum. The banking industry is not known for any particular innovations, to the best of my very limited knowledge of banking. I also doubt if Nigerian banks have a significant global reach. To what degree are they engaged in economic activities outside Nigeria and to what degree do they contribute to driving development in Nigeria? Do they fund genuine claims to scientific and technological achievement in Nigeria? To what degree do they fund the obvious success of Nollywood so that the industry can move beyond sheer volume to greater quality that can penetrate global markets beyond what is likely to be its Black African fan base at home and abroad? The stupendous budgets, which allied with a dazzling array of skills, enables Hollywood to rule the global film world must be based to a significant degree on backing by financial institutions. What role are similar institutions in Nigeria playing in this crying need?
Modern Societies as Based on Critical Thinking and an Egalitarian Social Contract
In sum, to describe any society as based on science and technology in the narrow sense of the physical and the biological sciences, talk less of claiming that African societies need to be based on science and technology to achieve modernity, is a very limited understanding of science and technology as well as of social development and management, talk less of the development of civilizations. It is accurate, instead, to describe modern societies as based on critical thinking, based on evidence and aspiration to social ideals that empower as many people as possible. These approaches are focused on rather than on speculation or religious faith. Within this context, science and technology are harnessed in concert with other disciplines in building and running these societies.
The Economic and Social Power of Nollywood Story Telling
To describe the role of the arts in Nigeria, and particularly of story telling, as very limited or irrelevant in relation to building a modern society is to ignore the facts of history, as demonstrated spectacularly in the economic and larger social impact of Nollywood, the most significant industry in Nigeria in terms of originality in relation to global reach.
I observe that most writers on the listerves I belong to have nothing good to say about Nigeria, time after time. The same song is played again and again in different variations. The focus is on the country's inadequacies in its various manifestations over the years as crystallised in the current social dispensation.
Western education may be defined in various ways.
Metaphysical and Epistemic Description
One of these methods of definition is in terms of the nature and sources of the metaphysical and epistemic roots of knowledge that structure an educational curriculum.
Structural Character of Cognitive Systems
By 'nature' in reference to a body of knowledge or a structure of ideas, I refer to the contents of a body of knowledge in terms of an organisation of a body of ideas into a correlative unit. This involves a consideration of the individual character of each of these ideas and the manner in which they are interrelated within the cognitive system. When you have such a cohesive unit, designed to be used as a template guiding the development of further knowledge, you have a cognitive system. Such cognitive systems are at the centre of educational systems. Various civilisations, at various points in their history, may be defined in terms of the formal and informal development and application of the cognitive systems privileged by that civilisation.
Metaphysical and Epistemic Roots
By 'metaphysical roots', I refer to the conception of the nature of the cosmos that underlies an educational curriculum. With reference to metaphysics, I mean ideas about the nature of existence, in what sense a phenomenon can be said to existand the relationship between the various existents or forms of being that constitute the cosmos. Every educational curriculum can be described as structured in terms of a metaphysical framework. That metaphysical framework demonstrates a cognitive, social and even geo-political history.
Inreferring to epistemic roots', I refer to the ideas and practices about the nature of knowledge, how to assess the validity of knowledge claims and apply knowledge that are privileged in an educational curriculum. These epistemic roots again demonstrate a cognitive, social and geo-political history.
One could describe the current metaphysical roots of Western education and perhaps even of Western society as founded in the European Enlightenment, as demonstrated by a focus on the human being as 'the measure of all things', as the central point of reference for understanding the cosmos. The conception of the human being that is privileged within this scheme is again one that achieved prominence in the Enlightenment, a human person defined primarily by their powers of reason.
That observation leads to the epistemic roots of Western education. The epistemic roots of Western education consist in a focus on the publicly assessable use of reason as the primary method for arriving at knowledge. By publicly assessable, I mean that the use of reason in such contexts should be such as to be capable of assessment by others using their own reason.
Pervasiveness of and Selectivity in the Metaphysical and Epistemic Roots
of Western Education
These metaphysical and epistemic conceptions are so fundamental to contemporary Western scholarship and education that they are often invisible in terms of being questioned by those who practice them. They are challenged from time to time, however. Examples of this are efforts to contextualisethe use of reason by post-modernists, by demonstrating the relationship between mind and body andthe role of the non-rational, along with other examples across the centuries.
The fact that these metaphysical and epistemic conceptions are not automatic but represent choices made out of a set of possibilities is demonstrated by the fact the actual metaphysical and epistemic conceptions that inform and are demonstrated in the conclusions of the work of seminal figures in Western are not always identical with what I have just described as central to Western thought. The current conceptions that define Western education were not always dominant at various periods of Western history, as in the Middle Ages, for example.
Descartes, Newton, Plato, Kant, Johannes, Kepler, among others, cannot be described purely in terms of those metaphysical and epistemic conceptions, and yet, the educational system to which they have become central is based on those metaphysical and epistemic roots that represent only an attenuated form of their multi-faceted achievement.
Geography and Race
One could also describe an educational system that characterises a civilisation, in this case, Westerrn civilisation, in terms of the geographical locations and races of the figures subsumed within and privileged by that educational system. With reference to Western education, to the best of my knowledge, its seminal figures in terms of ideas about the nature of the cosmos and the character of knowledge are fundamentally European. This tradition has been carried beyond Europe through migration and colonialism, to North America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. I don't know anything about education and scholarship in South America so I can't comment on that sub-continent.
Developments since the closing years of the twentieth century have introduced North Americans, Asians and Africans into the canon of Western scholarship but I doubt if these new figures have made fundamental changes to the conceptions of the nature of the universe and the character of knowledge established by European thought. I would need to know more about these developments, though, to adequately assess the degree to which this is true, which I think it is.
Seeming exceptions to this description of the foundations of Western thought and Western education as being in Europe, Europe as it existed before the emergence of a multicultural concentration of thinkers and writers in European society could be described as reinforcing this argument by demonstrating strategies of selection and assimilation through which Western scholarship and education has defined itself as a distinct brand.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Such exceptions would seem to be, for example, St. Augustine of Hippo, the North African scholar and man of religion who occupies a seminal position in various fields of Western thought where he has been a point of reference since he passed away in the 5th century. No comprehensive survey of various branches of Christian theology, of aesthetics, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, autobiography and the philosophy of history in the Western tradition is complete without a discussion of Augustine's consistent influence on European scholars and writers, an influence that is reflected in the manner in which these European thinkers have shaped Western thought.
Augustine's influence on European thought, the ground of Western thought, was possible because Augustine was thoroughly assimilated to Christian civilisation as it existed within and beyond Europe as propagated by the Roman Empire, of which Augustine was a member in his native Tagaste and Hippo, where he was bishop, a region described as in present day Tunisia. This assimilation involved his being steeped in classical European thought and the dominant European religion of his time, Christianity, as represented by classical mythology and philosophy, particularly Neo-Platonism, which he transmuted in contact with the Bible and other fundamentals of Christianity, an assimilation also demonstrated in what is described as his magnificent Latin style, Latin being of course the official language of the Roman Empire, an assimilation also evident in his identification with the European metropolis as a point of reference, as shown by his pilgrimage to see his much admired Bishop Ambrose in Milan.
Augustine may therefore be described as thoroughly Europeanised. In an era before the description of colonised peoples, particularly Africans, as not worthy of learning from by the coloniser, Augustine's Europeanisation enabled his assimilation within European thought from as late as Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century to as recent as Martin Heidegger in the mid-twentieth century.
Another seeming exception is the transmission of ancient Greek thought to Europe in the Middle Ages by the Arab scholars. Western scholars assimilated the Arabic contribution but these Arab scholars did not subsequently play a significant role in Western philosophy. An exception to this blanking out could be Ibn Sīnā,, better known as Avicenna, whose pioneering work in medicine seems to have been subsumed into Western medicine.
Other seeming exceptions are in mathematics, where insights from various civilisations have been interpreted by Western science and their sources acknowledged. That acknowledgement, however, seems to still privilege Western and particularly European scholars as the foundation of what is known as mathematics in the modern sense. I don't know enough about mathematics to know if this view can be challenged. . There are non-Western mathematicians in the more recent mathematical canon, like Ramanujan, but they seem few to me.
I am notinformed enough on the sciences to give a thumbnail survey on them in relation to those issues but I suspect that the same point might hold there.
Selectivity in the Development of Western Education
Western valorisng of Western civilisation through the character of its educational system has been central to the creation of a body of knowledge and of strategies for disseminating knowledge that can be correctly described as Western education.
This process of valorising one's own civilisation by excludingideas and achievements from other civilisationsin the process of building one's own educational system emerged for a number of reasons.
These reasons could be described as includinglack of access to information about other civilisations,difficulties of understanding those civilisations and relating them to the social and individual experiences of Europeans, whose history is at the centre of Western education, as well as efforts to valorise Western civilisation at the expense of other civilisations, along with what seems to be a process of selection from the achievements of seminal figures of Western thought, who could be described as encapsulating a multi-faceted scope of achievement that their descendantswere not able to integrate in itsentiretybut could assimilate only piecemeal into Western education as it developed over the centuries.
The selections eventually arrived atfrom theworks of theseseminal figures and emphasised in the educational systemcan be described as arrived at through various processes, one being through the outcome of battles for legitimacy betweenvarious cognitive paradigms, paradigms defined in terms of particular metaphysical and epistemic perspectives and their related cognitive histories.
Changes might be emerging to these paradigms, as represented, for example, by the presence of Asian thought in various disciplines, as in philosophy of mind and neuroscience.
Examples of these are Self, No Self? : Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological and Indian Traditions, published by Oxford UP( 2010) , The Measure of Things: by David Cooper, which draws on Buddhist and European secular philosophers, again published by Oxford UP (2002) and Ornella Corazza's essays and her book Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection published by Routledge (2008) which draw significantly on Japanese philosophy. Corazza describes her research as to developing " new strategies to enhance our lifestyle by bridging science and Oriental traditions."
For these initiatives to be described as significantly affecting Western thought would require not only discussion of them in isolation from European roots of the Western tradition, which might have been the position before the last 50 years or more, to the recent correlative discussion represented by the two Oxford UP books, to rethinking the foundational ideas of inherent in this educational system, as Corazza seems to be doing, all the way to creating curricula that reflect such re-evaluations in terms of how people are thought to search for and validate knowledge.
An educational system based on different metaphysical and epistemic conceptions, drawing from a different style of privileging cognitive history, could approach the entire body of global knowledge differently.
The Potential of India
Such systems might emerge in India, for example, which is engaged in vigorous publishing of all kinds of books, and republishes under licence books on India publishedin the West and sells and exports these books at cheaper prices than the Western originals – the West in this instance beingEuropean and North American, particularly US publishing companies.
Perhaps the Indians will develop a system that correlates their own indigenouseducational systems with the Western system they got through colonisation by England.
The perspectives expressed in this essay might be simplistic in some ways, but they could be useful for characterising the relevant issues.
17 January 2012
Beautiful. Sad. Moving. Poignant.
I find the last two lines particularly striking:
Cruise in our capital city,
We supplicate in shackles."
The image of kidnappers "cuddling" ransoms rings out in its suggestion of tenderness. Yet, in a manner that suggests the ludicrous, it contrasts with their characterization as kidnappers.
The kidnapper is characterized through the action of "cuddling" the proceeds of their kidnapping. This correlation of the physically, psychologically and socially violent criminal action of kidnapping with the tenderness evoked by "cuddling", evokes a conception of poetry as transgression, as semantic and linguistic transgression.
In the name of Jesus Christ, how can kidnapper "cuddle" ransom money? Why is the kidnapper being pictured in terms of a sensitive behavior normally related to tender moments like cuddling a child, a small, sensitive being to whom one feels affection?
The poet transgresses because he/she dislocates our conventional expectations. He/she breaks up what we understand as normal and carries us into an un-normal place, where we are forced to see with the transgressive eyes of the poet.
In a sense, the poet kidnaps us from our conventional world of relationship between language and ideas and takes us forcefully into another world, where things are distorted or reshaped from the world we knew. We cannot really return to the world we used to inhabit because that world is not complete for us anymore or does not even exist anymore.We become homeless and have to make a new home in the new world the poet has abducted us into. The poet kidnaps us, collects ransom from us and in the process, destroys our old world.
The poet extracts from us a ransom of perception. The ransom is in our being forced to see with the eyes of the poet. Yet we are not free. The poet is a kidnapper who collects ransom and yet does not free the kidnapped person. Interestingly, the kidnapped person can never be free again no matter what the poet or the kidnapped person may do.
If someone shows you a secret about yourself that you did not know before, can you return to your former innocence? Can you successfully wish you did not have that new knowledge? You cannot. That is similar to the kidnapping and ransom, the transgression and eventual participation in transgression, which the poet inflicts on his or her audience. We become, not only simply recipients of the act of kidnapping, but participants in the transgressive experience the kidnapping involves.
The potency of the appeal of poetry may be described as consisting in the mental shock the audience experiences from being inflicted with that transgression. We are jolted from the customary frames of reference through which we categorise and therefore respond to the universe.
It is these juxtapositions, evoked by the poet, and as stated by William Empson, apprehended and mentally resolved by the audience, even as the incongruity continues to delight the mind, that is the poetic core.
Of course, the kidnapper will "cuddle" the precious fruits of his dastardly work. It is what he has wrought such pain on others and taken such risks to achieve. Why should he not cuddle it? With it, he will be able to enjoy what other people work to achieve through jobs done in the honesty of moral daylight.
But, really, who are these kidnappers? Are they simply those who abduct people and demand ransom? Are there other kinds of kidnappers, more insidious and perhaps contributing to or acting as catalysts to the emergence of the brazen kidnapper, the cruder version of the other kind of kidnapper who kidnaps your freedom, your right to justice, your right to fundamentals of civilized existence, all orchestrated in terms of the structure of a social system, so that everyone within that system is kidnapped?
Is this not the image that Zablon Zeus, Chidi Anthony Opara, is evoking for us in this poem, a situation where kidnappers are part of and their activities constitute much of the social system of whatever country he is alluding to?
Is that not what is suggested by the concluding line
"We supplicate in shackles"?
My God! Fusing sacred action, supplication, appeal to a higher power, with an image of bondage, being "in shackles." How may one convey a more potent image of wretchedness?
The idea of "supplicating in shackles", in my view, takes this poem beyond the level of social and political criticism into a metaphysical realm, in terms of questions in the philosophy of religion.Karl Marx famously described religion as the opium of the masses. Adapting Opara's lines, one may also describe religion as also capable of being the shackles of the masses, shackles they place on themselves or which others place on them, in the name of supplicating powers which represent a focus on illusion, an abdication of human responsibility to divine figures who will never do what the human being can do for themselves, and whenever these goals are achieved through human effort or chance, the intervention of these gods of questionable existence and ability is credited.
As Jorge Luis Borges puts it in Labyrinths "I brought out a revolver and I killed the gods!".
In relation to the context of countries where the poverty rate is highest, it has been argued that such countries are particularly religious. So Opara's evocation of supplication and shackling may take our minds to the various higher powers, spiritual and secular, that people are shackled to, supplicating to them, not for freedom but to further enable that bondage by letting the victims share in the crumbs falling from the higher powers or appealing to join those powers.
A system that encourages the seeking of government contracts in contrast to demanding infrastructural development so that everyone should have good roads to use instead of a few riding Mercedes Benzes on bad roads; scrambling for bags of rice given away by the First Lady instead of organizing a drive for food justice for the nation, for policies that will ensure that as many people as possible have easy access to good food; scrambling for political appointments instead of demanding the development of a thriving economy, among other approaches to supplicating in shackles, as Opara puts it.
I am not implying that seeking government contracts or government appointments is necessarily negative. I am suggesting that a system that is heavily tilted towards the government as the central source of economic empowerment is not healthy and could place people in bondage.
I am also not suggesting that any country should be defined primarily in terms of its negative points. One needs to do a comprehensive analysis and also take note of positive developments. One has to observe those parts of the country where roads are being built, educational services improved, observe and assess developments in the cultivation of a democratic system, among other valuable initiatives.
The poet puts our nose to the grindstone to justify the opportunity to take part in the great enterprise of building human communities. The poet is watching closely. The poet is poised to skewer with words tipped with with beautiful poison any slacking from standards of humane existence
Gentlemen and ladies, please help me. I cannot help myself.
I like to see myself as an unalloyed critic of the Sarakis, Olusola Saraki, his daughter Gbemi Saraki and his son Bukola Saraki, for their practically feudal domination of Kwara State politics in which the Saraki patriach dictated who would be governor in Kwara State, on one occasion describing himself as going on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to pray for guidance as to whom to approve as/make governor of Kwara State.
His son became governor in the previous electoral round while his daughter was elected to Senate. There followed a spirited drive to make the daughter governor while his son takes up her vacated Senate seat.
People like me wonder why one family should rotate central electoral positions of the state among themselves, why one man and one family should play an almost dictatorial role in a democratic polity.
I then saw a picture of Gbemi Saraki and my general criticism of this family began to modify itself. I began to imagine myself speaking to this woman and asking her out to dinner. I'm pleased I dont have to make any decisions in relation to her political future.
If I had to, I wonder if my critical stance could be sustained. Would my intellect be true to itself? Would it be able to look beyond this beauty and examine her level of genuine democratic culture? Would I dismiss all that as inconsequential in the face of those rounded cheeks, those full lips, the space that announces itself proudly to the world as it rises from her chest?
"What is the ultimate significance of beauty, particularly human beauty?" is the central question that impels this essay and the succeeding essays in the series that will be posted later with the same title.
The essay emerged in response to challenges directed at my earlier essay "The Undeniable Allure of the Beautiful: Gbemi Saraki", where I responded to the shock of discovering the dissonance between the repulsion I share with some people for the feudal domination of Kwara State politics by the Saraki family through the state and nation wide tenterhooks of their patriarch Olosuola Saraki, and the beauty of his daughter Gbemi Saraki, a beauty that is undeniable, whatever one might think about the ugliness or otherwise of the domination of the politics of the state by her family.
The Undeniable Allure Of The Beautiful: Gbemi SarakiYour interest in this woman is purely personal and should be kept off cyberspace, a critic challenged. Your judgment of her beauty is strictly subjective and is therefore not a subject for public celebration, the same critic added. You valorise political inadequacy by celebrating such peripheral attributes in a politician, the critic summed up.Why focus on her physical attributes when she is presenting herself in terms that transcend physicality, since she is a politician, queried another critic. On another note, another respondent expressed hope that her physical beauty would also be manifest in terms of beauty of character demonstrated in her compassionate discharge of duties towards Kwara State where she was serving as Senator and where she was campaigning for the gubernatorial seat in the forthcoming elections, since the essay was written before the last electoral round, where Gbemi eventually lost to a candidate supported by her brother, Bukola Saraki.
In responding to these issues, I found the essay expanding into a survey of a broad range of ideas from various civilisations across time and space. I will post successive sections of the essay on these fora at intervals. I have also made a film of about 3mins, Beauty: Human and Cosmic, which, using music, pictures and poetry, encapsulates some of the perspectives I am developing. I will post the film later.
On Politics and Physical Beauty in Relation to Gbemi Saraki
I posted on these fora (Blogger, Facebook, Scribd, Listerverves) on 28 April 2011, a very short essay on on the physical beauty of Gbemi Saraki, a governorship aspirant for Nigeria's Kwara State in the 2011 electoral round. The essay focused on the irony of my being compelled to testify to the radiance of her physical presence even as I understand myself as a critic of the feudal hold her family has had on the politics of Kwara State principally through the influence of her father, Olusola Saraki.
That influence is ostensibly weakened by the fact of his son, Bukola Saraki, the last governor of Kwara state, having supported a different candidate than his father for the just concluded gubernatorial elections. Bukola Saraki's candidate won the gubernatorial seat in opposition to his sister, Gbemi,whose candidacy was supported by their father. Does this development, however, not suggest the extension of the feudal influence of Olusula Saraki as kingmaker in Kwara, in which he was rountinely described by himself and others as deciding who would be governor of the state? He was once quoted as stating in public that he was looking for someone to hand over care of the state to, as if the state were personal property. Does his son replace him in that capacity?
The Undeniable Allure Of The Beautiful: Gbemi SarakiIt was this image that finished me off as far as this woman is concerned! When something unique walks the earth, we must acknowledge it. How did the adept crowned with the white efflorescence of time put it, drawing on the ancient memory of "Àjànàkú kojáa "mo rí nnkan fìrí". Bí a bá rí Erin kí á so pé a rí Erin" : An elephant is greater than a flashing glimpse. When one sees an elephant, you do not say "I saw something pass in a flash". You must declare "I have glimpsed the tamer of the forest!".
When, billions of years to come, races far distant from terra firma seek to characterise what is meant by the human race, they will have to resort to images like this to ascertain the acme of human physicality, the fully bodied beauty that makes life worth living. Just look at those eyes! What does it mean to be alive, if not to show such a blaze in the faculties of sight, the windows of the soul? The skin, a rich sheen, carefully defined bones drawing taut the fibres of flesh that shield the human being from the elements.
One is almost dumb with wonder.
What more is there to comment on? Is it those lips that by themselves can make a new day look promising? The dome of space between eyes and headtie that recalls Greek myths about the brow of Zeus, from which the goddess Athena was born? Do we need to comment on the exquisite dress sense in which a disciplined flow of blue and white enriches the dance of colours that brings her to our eyes?
Let me stop here lest I start to babble. If not, I would be lost in speculations of the symbolism of textiles, the gele as representing the immortal radiance that defines the soul that sits in the head directing the self, the clothing as evoking the movement of humanity into civilisation, the stars that adorn ear and chest luminiscent as the star that every human is as one moves into and out of the space between the great darknesses before and after life on earth. But let us not burden ourselves with these ideas from Yoruba and Thelemic metaphysics, though beauty and philosophy walk hand in hand as we show in the succeeding installments in this series.
To Be Continued
THE CONCEPTUAL WORKSHOP
Politics; beauty; aesthetics
Gubernatorial; feudal hold; 2011 electoral round Kwara State; Gbemi Saraki; Olusola Saraki; Gbemi Saraki Ajánákù; earth; adept; efflorescence of time; forest Bones; fibres of flesh; elements; dome of space; eyes ; headtie Terra firma; sight; Greek myths; Zeus; Athena; textiles; gele; immortal radiance Soul; clothing ; humanity; civilisation; stars; ear; chest Luminiscent; star; human; space; earth; darknesses
Yorùbá; Thelemic; Metaphysics; philosophy
White efflorescence of time; a flashing glimpse; the tamer of the forest
The fully bodied beauty that makes life worth living; a blaze in the faculties of sight; the windows of the soul
The skin; a rich sheen; carefully defined bones drawing taut the fibres of flesh
Human physicality; windows of the soul; skin; a rich sheen; acme of human physicality
The dome of space between eyes and headtie; the dance of colours; symbolism of textiles
The immortal radiance that defines the soul that sits in the head directing the self
The movement of humanity into civilisation; the star that every human is
The space between the great darknesses before and after life on earth; Yorùbá and Thelemic metaphysics; Beauty and philosophy walk hand in hand
Thanks to Gbemi Saraki for being herself and to all who have helped her actualise that beauty that is so striking .
Thanks to those who responded in disagreement and agreement with my first essay on Gbemi Saraki. The challenge they provided motivated me to dig deeper in order to respond to them.
The proverb on the elephant is adapted from Wole Soyinka's Death and the Kings Horseman.
Thanks to Temi Esan, Gbenga Oduntan and Dr. Akin Oyètádé for selflessly making possible the rendition of the proverb from Soyinka's English back into the original Yorùbá and doing it at such short notice.
Thanks to Temi Esan for taking the time to present the first rendering and translation of the Yorùbá original of the proverb.
Thanks to Gbenga Oduntan for presenting the second translation of the proverb and suggesting how to apply the diacritic marks to the Yorùbá writing.
Thanks to Dr. Akin Oyètádé, professional scholar in Yorùbá, for giving the full Yorùbá rendering, with precise diacritic marks, along with a translation, of the proverb earlier provided by Temi Esan and translated by herself and Gbenga Oduntan.
Dr. Oyètádé graciously provided the following source for his expanded rendering of the proverb:
Bello-Olówóòkéré. 2004. Egbèrún Ìjìnlè Owe Yorùbá àti Ìtumò Won ní Èdè Gèésì: 1000 Yorùbá Proverbs and their Translations in English. Lagos: Concept Publications Limited. p.26.