Election Reflections: A Voice or Musical Sound

Nigeria Decides 2015

Poets are the conscience of a time

Musicians today are supposed to be the poets of yesterday, given their prominence in popular culture. Unfortunately the lyric is often pathetically unpoetic which is why the instruments are steadily taking dominance over the voice; we don’t want to listen, we just want to dance. Poets of the past were public intellectuals, and poets of the past are also musicians of today. This replacement across time has lead to the conflation of the public intellectual and the musician, which has had a profound impact on the level of influence musicians enjoy over their listeners/fans.

A lot of music has been released in the campaigns of the ongoing Nigerian general election. From Hausa pop music to the urban “Nigerian” music, all have been represented. Most tracks are promoting candidates prior to election but a few that did not fit into that category. One track was literally lionising the Chairman of INEC after the successful presidential election, a few others were celebrating the victory of the president-elect, and I heard only one which was gloating over the loss of the outgoing president. At first glance, it appears that these musicians have something to say to the world. That would be inaccurate without adding the fact that most of the tracks were sponsored. Being commissioned to say something, even if you believe it, is not considered as sharing your opinion. It may be a musical sound, but not a voice in the sense of  “the voice of the people”.

In an interview with BBC Hausa, an interviewed musician welcomed the election season because the demand for sponsored music soared. He mentioned that prior to the campaigns, it would take weeks and months to be sponsored to make a track, but these days he makes up to 3 or 5 tracks a day! At this rate, it means the tracks you hear are only the few that became popular. It is important to note that the business model of Hausa pop music is obviously not very sophisticated, which is easy to pick from the audio production quality, which is also why most weddings are able to sponsor an “album” or two all about the wedding. It also speaks about the cost involved not being high. We can comfortably say that a lot of Hausa pop music are services to be rendered, at a cost, to the requestor (low budget movies, weddings, political and non-political campaigns).

Then there is the side of Nigerian urban music, which is basically referring to the music heavily influenced by what amounts for music in BET, MTV, Reggae and Jazz. As an industry, there is more income, the musical production is higher quality, and the business model is more sophisticated following the footsteps of consumerist and celebrity centred models of major labels in the US. Sophisticated enough to have tours. Like their counterparts in the US, you could invite them to perform for a private party, if you have the right dough; it is probably cheaper in Nigeria comparing the equivalent percentile of artist. Movie actors of Nollywood are considered to belong to the same celebrity pool as the Nigerian urban musicians. These two groups appear together in cause-driven campaigns usually sponsored by NGOs.

This election featured a number of campaign music and videos featuring celebrities from Hausa music and film industries, and also from urban Nigerian music and film industries. It would be misleading to take that as a sign of commitment from them towards political change. It is more accurate to consider them as committed to offering the service they offer best. There was a report that some celebrities got into a public disagreement over the sharing of payment for a campaign video, which suitably appeared in a celebrity gossip website, which also shows that the payment was probably not contractual but rather it was merely a token from the politician, as a king would to performing fools, or politician to sycophants. Then there was the news of celebrities that sang or appeared in video of campaign were out of the country at the time of election, which means they won’t be walking the talk. Of course this assumes that the reported news (which I can’t locate at the moment) are true. Nonetheless, many would agree that many mainstream celebrities in Nigeria are political whores; or more appropriately political servants.

Another campaign music video caught my attention as an advert on Youtube. It is a campaign for the APC gubernotorial candidate in Lagos, Ambode (who has won at the time of this post). The first striking thing is that there is/are artists who are not even indigeneously from Lagos, or probably not registered voters in Lagos, which makes it highly unlikely that there votes will count in Lagos state gubernotorial election; artist for hire?… Sell out?

When an action generally regarded as a sincere expression of personal convictions, is immersed in a highly service based industry of show biz, should the “performers” be stripped off the authority of public intellectuals that they are accorded by default? What about musicians that make “serious” tracks under the reigns of their record labels for the sake of targeting a particular audience? I opine in the affirmative! Service based musicians, at least in their sponsored or marketing tracks, should not be granted the attention of public intellectuals. But they enjoyed it quite considerably this concluding election.

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Election Reflections: Call to (Non)Violence

Nigeria Decides 2015

It seems commonsense to count on political aspirants to keep their supporters calm from violent uprisings. Experience has shown that political aspirants are able to incite violent uprisings by the instruments of their supporters. A logic is derived from this experience: if they can instigate violence, then they should be able to calm it down. The sustained assumption is that inciting violence takes the same or similar abilities as is required to douse an uprising; or at least it takes similar political status and privilege to make it happen. We have seen a number of calls for peace prior and after the Nigerian 2015 Elections by the “leaders”.

On closer examination, the abilities we confer on these “leaders” can be seen to be based on a faulty assumption because everyday experience shows that those who are easy to bring about disturbance are often far from being endowed with restoring calm; or vice versa. It appears these are two different skills. Unless one assumes that all speeches from people of political status is more or less the same, and that the only thing that matters is the content. Surely this may be true about bureaucratic documents but hardly believable for social interactions like public speeches. Nonetheless, let us assume it is so. The implication then becomes political “leaders” control the mass of voters. This may be true in experience, but this is also where the contradiction lies; with regards to democratic ideals.

Democracy aims to provide structure where voters control their leaders, and even decide who becomes the leader. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, a democratic leader is not one you have submitted to, or have faith in to handle your affairs. She/He is someone you are comfortable enough with to handle your affairs but whom you have under your observation; to be held accountable. That is why there are several feedback mechanisms to communicate to this leader(s) on the decision of the masses, from simple letters to petitions to threats and protests directed at the leader. Such a leader can avoid the wrath of her/his constituency by giving into their demands; at least if they are a substantial percentage. Therefore it is safe to say that in democracy, it is the people who control the political leaders, not vice versa.

It then requires an assumption that is a contradiction to democratic ideals to have a politically elected/aspiring officer calling for non-violence, for instance. It is less of a contradiction when entertainment celebrities take this role because they have no obligation to serve their audience, or be controlled by their audience, unlike the democratically bound politically elected/aspiring officer.

It could be argued that political leaders are called upon to douse uprisings not by their capability to positively calm it down through any of their abilities, but because having them denounce violence, then we are assured that they won’t be calling for violence. In other words we want political leaders to commit to non-violence so that if they were to attempt to incite violence, they would run into contradiction! Interesting use of contradiction. The issue then becomes one of calling for violence vs NOT calling for violence, rather than calling for violence vs calling for peace. We could say this is what it means for a political leader to call for non-violence but you and I know that is not what is implied, or at least that there is a problem in accepting that. Again (as in previous posts on this series), Wittgenstein comes to save us. Meaning should be sought in its usage. We can all agree that the usage of calling for non-violence is really under the belief that the leaders have an ability to calm violence down. In other words, we believe (and perpetrate the belief that) those leaders control the will of their constituency rather than serve it. But Democracy would have these leaders serve the Demo i.e. the people. Thus the contradiction!

Next time you find a democratically elected leader calling for non violence, consider the contradiction at play.

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Election Reflections: Delivery or Democracy

Nigeria Decides 2015

Nothing screams incompetence in the parlance of this election like being unable to “deliver” your polling unit. This is typically leveled at politicians whose party lose at a polling unit that is considered theirs. What does it mean for a polling unit to belong to a politician? This claim of possession is itself arrogant appropriation, and imperialist in ambition, like colonisation where the powerful lays claim on resources to be used to their advantage. This micro-imperialism is why it sounds absurd to accuse a typical voter for failing to “deliver” their polling unit, because he/she is not expected to deliver anything, but be delivered… on a plate… to the “imperial crown”, which are political parties, as booty of election campaign. This has been business as usual in past elections, and this ongoing election I’d argue.

There have been counter campaigns urging voters to “deliver” their polling units and states; as opposed to having the typical politicians deliver to whichever masters they happen to be serving. At first glance this looks like a counter movement, but on closer look it is actually simply a competition to the regular politician that “delivers”. The ordinary voters who take the mandate to deliver their polling units are also answering the calls of another party, just like the typical politicians, only that they may not be as crooked and may not have the resources to mobilise in the same manner. This has been one of the genius of the opposition party; getting voters to take up the mission to deliver without funding them, which gives them the inner comfort of living the democratic ideal. In Marxist jargons, these are the petty-bourgeois who see the revolution not as the end of capitalism, but that they also attain bourgeois privileges. In the past, “delivery” of polling booth was mandated on politicians alone, this time around voters have been empowered to deliver their booths; but both competing groups deliver to political parties. So rather than a few people taking a credit for delivering their polling units, so many can now share in the glory, which is why it appears democratic. Unless it is through reasoning (public debates etc), a presumptuous leadership role to “deliver” is undemocratic (ideally). Delivery by politicians and by voters have the same goal, and the same assumptions, even if different methods, so one is not contrary to the other. The contradiction is then between “delivery” and ideals of democracy.

The idea of delivery, of anything, seems positive, being reminiscent of birth i.e. appearance of long awaited fruit of labour. The other meaning of delivery is in the sense of postal service where the mail man takes a certain object and gets it to customer. In movies of the ancient, this would be analogous to a servant serving a master. Or more appropriately an imperial band of “traders” delivering slaves to the home of the crown. It is in this latter sense that politicians are expected to deliver; the politicians are the servants and the political party (or its personified leader) is the one served (crown). That politicians are “servants”; their master is not the people but their political parties, and individual votes are the objects that are delivered. This is objectification of the populace and dehumanisation of voters for ease of appropriation. An object (vote) doesn’t have a will in itself because the will is usurped by political party they align with through the agents of “delivery”.

This idea of “delivery” is so prevalent that a failure of a politician to deliver is not simply seen as victory of the people (triumph of democracy) but it is seen as successful delivery by another individual from the opposition party; this is how the opposition perceive it. So either way, the voters cannot claim triumph or even responsibility on the most basic of their entitlement which democracy offers. This belief goes so deep that even when people celebrate the triumph of democracy, they do so by celebrating the failure of a politician to deliver; which also means the opposing politician has delivered. Many “activists” and commentators are guilty of this when they celebrate democracy by putting emphasis in shaming the failure of a politician to deliver.

An alternative to this stark analysis/reading of our election culture would be to consider the charge to “deliver” as a show of a person’s popularity at their polling unit. On the face of it this may seem plausible but it doesn’t stand when contextualised. First of all, the typical politician does not have grassroot support, instead is able to afford the monetary cost of sponsored support. When we shame Goodluck, Namadi etc for being unable to “deliver” their polling units, we are not assuming they are somehow representative of their peoples concerns; as economists would say demand in a market economy. What we mean in that usage is that they didn’t “mobilise” voters in their locations; or their mobilisation efforts failed. Wittgenstein simplified the issue of meaning of words by saying words’ meaning should be sought in their use. It is in this Wittgensteinian semantic that we conclude that the shaming of politicians is really in the sense of expecting them to be lords over their voters. Hence the contradiction to democratic ideals.

So do you want delivery or democracy?

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Election Reflections: Making of a Hero

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Presidential election was carried out, which was the most intense in Nigeria’s history. Riots, civil war, insurgencies and assassinations were all palpable possibilities in the aftermath of the election. The ruling party lost the election. The ruling president called the president elect and congratulated the president-elect . This action of one humble man saved the country from a potential civil war; he deserves a Nobel peace prize. This action is praise-worthy, deserves congratulations, a display of humility and democratic sportsmanship…

This is the mainstream narrative. It begs for reflection: how do we ascribe characters to individuals?

We don’t ascribe characters to individuals in a vacuum. For instance we don’t simply say “Sadat is hardworking”, because Sadat may also be troublesome, kind, punctual and temperamental. The choice of the attributes of Sadat we mention depends on the purpose which that information seeks to redress. So in a discussion about office work, I could say Sadat is hardworking and it would serve the purpose, but saying the same sentence when discussing public vandalism would be out of place. This is the most basic way we align our characterisation of individuals with purpose. There are more relevant purposes for instance how does one characterise an individual when the purpose is to assess the contribution of that individual to a project, or to mark a historical event, or to create a myth, or to romanticise an individual. In this case, it would take more than a statement, it would take a lot of statements (or story, or narrative). Interestingly, people are not always explicit, or even aware, of the purpose why they seek to characterise a person. The question then becomes how do we ascribe character to individuals, given that there is always a purpose?

Novels and biographies may provide insight to this question. After reading a novel, we are left imprinted with the character of the story’s main individual e.g. honourable, composed, anxious etc. Is the character of the person determined by a single momentary action, or is the character to be determined by aggregation of actions over time (through the novel)? If by aggregation of actions, then is the aim of determining character to show the complexity of the person, in all their positive and negatives? Modern novels achieve this complexity by evoking empathy through humanising those that would be typically considered villains like serial killers and tyrants. Or does aggregation of actions tease out consistent actions that can be grouped together, then ascribe these as the reputation of the individual? Among the three options above, I favour them in a certain order, which is based on the extent of contradiction between the option chosen and the purpose to which one seeks to characterise another person.

There is a need to understand the formation of a narrative (story). Experiences and events are converted to narratives in order to make sense to the mind and memory, and to be suitable to a purpose i.e. taking only what is relevant from the messiness of experiences and events to suit the purpose. In the context of the recent Nigerian election, the dominant narrative here is the first paragraph, the person that has been characterised (protagonist or antagonist, depends on your choice) is the outgoing president. Just as we are left imprinted with the character of the main individual after reading a story, we are left imprinted with the character of other people in our lives after we internalise our experiences with them as narratives. In this case, the narrative above imprints on us a certain character about the outgoing president; a rosy character indeed.

Different purposes call for different methods of characterisation of individuals using narratives. If our purpose is to write history, then the prevalent choice would be either to use single historic actions/moments, or to aggregate consistent actions. If the purpose is to humanise a person, as would be found in biographies, then the prevalent choice is to expose the complexity of an individual, or again look for consistent actions. If the aim is to construct a myth or a hero, then the best choice is to focus on single historic actions/moments; because any other characterisation run the risk of de-myth-ifying. Contradiction arises when we choose a method of characterisation which does not suite the purpose, or which subverts the purpose. For instance, when we use the single historical action of the outgoing president to make assessment of his leadership abilities as the president. But it wouldn’t be a contradiction if the aim is to make him a hero. Moreover the ending of any story or narrative is powerful because it often leaves a lasting legacy. So a key assumption henceforth is that the narrative on the outgoing president above is meant to be serve as an assessment of his leadership acumen.

Although two narratives could appear opposing each other, they don’t necessarily invalidate each other because they could be shaped by same events; with only one narrative ignoring some events or accounts. Therefore the narrative of the outgoing president above could still be true even if it is pointed out that relevant information has been left out, but it would be a charade and misleading. Narratives cover just as much as they expose; they emphasise and they downplay, and this is perhaps why the saying “History is written by victors” or even “History is His-story”. So when confronted with a certain narrative that does not fit the purpose, it is another way of saying the narrative is not rich enough, or too rich as the case may be. To deal with this, one may simply wish to “enrich” the narrative and then re-assess how it fits the purpose.

In the case of the outgoing president, there is an alternative narrative, or I could say an enrichment of the more prevalent narrative. Some shattered that hero-making narrative by pointing to other failures of the president without negating that narrative, then others responded saying a people have the right to decide who to make a hero; aka willful delusion. Even more interesting, some even think the president is not just a scoundrel, but also not as honourable as a thief that confessed. Well here is an alternative narrative (I have italised all the enrichment to the original narrative above):

Election was carried out, which was the most intense in Nigeria’s history. This is in the backdrop of what many perceived as neglect of insecurity (in a particular region of the country) which is translated as commission by omission, the neglect of corruption by certain elites, and also the favoring of a particular region for economic and leadership opportunities. Riots, civil war, insurgencies were all palpable possibilities in the aftermath of the election. The ruling party (under the leadership of the president) having perceived the coming loss explored several ways to rig the election or sabotage the transition like postpone the election to buy more time to strategise, sponsor campaigns calling for resignation of INEC Chairman, sponsor campaigns to boycott biometric accreditation  of voters, attempt to divide and conquer the opposition by breaking its rank, non-action/encouraging public militant threats to “protect” the ruling government, alleged offer to the military to take over an interim government, disrupt the result announcement process by provocation of the INEC Chairman,  attempts to declare curfew in some states, alleged conspiracy to detain the INEC Chairman during collation of results as Security Agencies were warned by CSOs. The ruling party lost the election. The ruling president called the president elect and congratulated the president-elect . At this point, the outgoing president had clearly lost and to call and congratulate is a way to gain soft landing. The US and UK had repeatedly emphasised the need for peaceful transition fearing another occurrence of Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’ Ivoire which had a similar build up the situation of the president. This action of one humble man saved the country from a potential civil war; he deserves a Nobel peace prize. This action is praise-worthy, deserves congratulations, a display of humility and democratic sportsmanship…

Immediately one sees a contradiction within the narrative itself. But we are more interested in contradiction between characterisation method and purpose. The first narrative focused on one action which is only un-contradictory if the purpose were to create a mythical hero out of the outgoing president, but contradictory if the purpose is to assess the outgoing president. The second narrative characterises by aggregation of actions which would also be contradictory if the purpose were to create a mythical hero, but would be suitable if it is to assess the leadership of the outgoing president. There could be other versions of this narrative which characterise by aggregating actions for the purpose of assessment, which may not reach the same conclusion as this, but that would be a matter of what is included or omitted.

Another interesting angle is that for each of the actions above that could be argued not to be carried out directly by the outgoing president, many would agree it can be attributed to his party. However we are quick to attribute that epic phone call to the president and not his party. It is a good-cop bad-cop script, which could be used to always make the outgoing president look good. Keep in mind the president is the leader of his party and the Commander in Chief, so actions of his party and those by security forces can be fairly attributed to him. Well, there you have it. A lot of contradictions. Is the outgoing president a hero or not?

Another hero created during this election is the Chairman of INEC who was interestingly vilified during the last election. His hero-fication may be worth exploring if you wish, I probably wont. But I shall write more on this series Election Reflections, which would simply be reflections on aspects of the Nigerian 2015 elections that caught my attention.

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Critical Sanity for 2015 Election

The political scene is muddy. Presidential candidates are campaigning. One week to election… date remains unconfirmed. Mudslinging in every direction. Muddy and murky. Excitement from the mudslinging, delight from the pigs, entertainment for fans of mud wrestling, and most importantly murky vision. This mudslinging analogy can further provide insight into the current state of aggressive political campaigns.

Before that, it is worth realizing that although this type of campaign is unprecedented in Nigeria, it is not new elsewhere. While many see this as retrogression in terms of political engagement, it is actually progress towards the living models of the liberal democracies we earnestly aim to attain. “Successful” liberal democracies like the US have been mudslinging during campaigns for some time now. A simple walk around youtube would reveal many such campaign videos and posters aimed at Obama, Muslim loving politicians, welfare loving politicians, “the others”, etc. The mere fact that Nigeria’s political campaigns are mudslinging par excellence, could mean we are on our way towards democratic maturity since we are imitating democracies like the US.

More importantly for the argument of progress is that the political discourse in Nigeria is evolving. Politicians used to be content simply coming out for rallies with paid and unpaid crowd, then shout catchy phrases (especially those that invoke chorus replies), then wait until election day, hire thugs to steal the ballot boxes or deploy “vote dealers” to buy votes from people for cash or equivalent. It used to be much simpler when political discourse was really a discourse of muscle and money. Now they are digging out “facts” to discredit their opponents. The discourse is evolving towards use of speech, new media and PR expertise. Money may stay a while but it would be progress if with the rise of mudslinging political discourse, we see a fall in the muscle political discourse.

critical thinking
noun
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Now back to the main issue of this post. The aim of all this mudslinging it seems is to persuade the voting public to cast their votes one way or another. Let us not call it mudslinging, let us call it revelation of “facts” since it seems that is the popular description agreed by both sides. The modern rational and liberal democrat prides themselves on their enlightened rationality and ability to investigate issues with xray vision and arrive at a conclusion. Their only requirement is to be provided with fact, and then they can make informed decisions. When provided with these facts, the democrat then makes an informed decision, even if that decision is to conclude that the fact is itself distorted. It is sufficient to point our here that double standard is often employed to discern admittable facts from “distorted” facts; which undermines the democratic mission and only provides a method for justification using “facts” but not for reevaluation. That is not very interesting.

What I find interesting is the myth of “facts”. This is the belief that fact is not only true or false, but also right or wrong, independent of context. A conflation of scientific concepts (facts’ truth and falsity) with ethical concepts (right and wrong). This is why some stakeholders would rather allege facts as distorted (i.e. false) rather than contextualise it’s rightness or wrongness. The more sophisticated participants in the discourse contextualise the fact to argue that something which has been painted wrong is actually right considering the context. Both positions take for granted that the source of the fact is unimportant as long as the fact can be verified to be true; a proper scientific attitude. In some instances, the source of the “facts” is questioned which at first seems like an exercise in verification of the truth. However it is often not the source that is questioned, rather it is the promoter/revealer of the fact whose motif is questioned. Not so scientific anymore.

polemic
noun
a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.

I am more interested in the timing for revealing facts, the end they seek to achieve and the authority on which they achieve this end. The end they seek to achieve is to persuade and dissuade (instantly), the authority for the use of “facts” is Critical Thinking; it is assumed that the one who changes or reinforces their belief based on “facts” is a critical thinking citizen. However critical thinking is not an exercised to be rushed; it requires thinking through and verification. Critical thinking is not instant, which is why it is not utilised by our fast food society. On the other hand, polemics is instant, emotive and of course persuasive. We can confidently categorise the bulk of newspapers, at least in Nigeria, as polemic writings.

Communication by critical thinking and polemics could have similar outcomes on the belief of the recipient even though by different methods or with different degree of authority. Keep in mind that critical thinking and polemics may overlap but my experience is they rarely do. At this point, It is important to distinguish three possible effects of critical thinking and polemics: persuasion to a belief, dissuasion from a belief and reinforcement of belief. If achieved via critical thinking the first two cannot be instant, and the last is not relevant. On the other hand if achieved via polemics, all three can be instant. So why all this talk and theorising?

If the above claims are true, then the average citizen anointed with the burden of critical thinking with the incessant revelation of “facts” must be overwhelmed and could hardly reach a conclusion on their candidate before election time. Remember that making such decisions is not simply about the pros of one candidate but the stock of pros and cons of each candidate then compared; this is why it helps to know the position of the candidates on different issues. If citizens however drop the authority of critical thinking, and admit to being steered by polemics, then those would be honest and engaged citizens. This difficulty is why it helps to have political parties based on ideologies, or at least clear agenda they can be held accountable for. Having ideologies or clear agenda in political parties makes it easy to decide which to vote for, then engage all the “facts” that come up to justify your position. Unfortunately, in the case of PDP and APC there is hardly any difference, after all APC can be seen as basically a disgruntled PDP. Both parties have identified the same issues with the nation but their how relies on the moral integrity of one person in the case of APC, or continuity with paradoxical conviction that things need time not improvement in the case of PDP. The distinguishing feature of PDP is that it has a ruling president which an international magazine referred to as a Chauncey Gardiner character.

Goodluck Jonathan, a Chauncey Gardiner figure with no obvious vision for his presidency beyond holding office. – Financial Times

It would be excellent critical thinking to attribute causation to one of the presidential candidates for events that happened during their rule. Social scientist have had to grapple with this problem of establishing human causal explanation to social events that they simply settled for “partial explanation” as sufficient. By settling for partial explanation, they have also downplayed the causation it self, making the requirement for causation to be a sum of many partial explanation. According to Max Weber, partial explanation is “explanation that for all their patent one-sidedness would be somewhat more rigorous than the conventional procedure in terms of ‘re-experiencing’, ‘intuition’ or ‘feel'” (H S Hughes – Consciousness and Society). Yet we hear a lot of “Buhari did this” and “Goodluck did this” simply because these things happened during their rule. As long as we are not making claims to objectivity (or ciritical thinking) then we are good to go. So what about unfortunate things that happened under their rule? If they form part of the partial explanation then we are justified to not want them return. However what about all the other partial explanations usually in forms of institutions, are we doing anything about those since they are likely more permanent than the rulers?

What am I saying here? Simply, ignore all those “facts” that are revealed say two months prior to election and maintain who you have decided to vote for whatever reason (I hope you would include Justice among your criteria). To feel as though you are being critical based on those lately revealed “facts” is likely to be dellusion, or make an inadequate exercise on critical thinking. My sane and delusion free recipe for voting is to have an ideology/agenda/choice and stick to it; it would have taken some reflection and feedback from everyday existence to decide on an ideology or agenda. If you would like to engage the campaigns then do so on a level of polemics but don’t take polemics serious enough to change your decision because that would be a disservice to your dear modern liberal democracy. Unfortuntely some would be expected to actively play into polemics with counter polemics, but this should be done without mistaking it with critical thinking but knowing the potent implication of keeping quite. Perhaps this is what Chomsky has known all along when he wrote about the use of anti-critical thinking to shepherd the citizens via media in “Manufacturing Consent”.

Rather than fixating on facts from the past, I’d rather we look into the future. Let anyone be the president, but make sure the president can be held accountable on what he/she leveraged to get elected. Celebrity and superstar culture magnifies the role of the president and has little or no regard for institutions, legislature and judiciary which can keep the president not only in check but accountable. Let us simply decide on our presidential candidate, then channel some of that energy towards electing the capable legislature to effect institutional reforms.

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Ballad for the Dead – By The Peace Seeking Anarchist

God have mercy on their souls. The murdered… and the murderers. This is no mistake, I pray for their souls as well because the evil I wish on them makes the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno seem like vacation. It belongs to the unsaid of scriptural accounts of hell. God is just and it is for God to deal with their souls. I ask only one thing; let us deal with their bodies. The weight of praying for their souls is lightened by lofty ambitions to deal with their bodies, an idea that regained its lustre in light of their recent attacks. Know that I remain a sceptic of the conspiracy theories that abound these murders, not because there is no basis for there is, but because neither conspiracy theories nor any academic institutional analysis can serve my purpose at this point. I am not jumping the gun here when I claim this purpose because I have not yet suffered directly from their attacks. My limbs are intact, my nuclear family and family friends have been spared murder by what seems increasingly statistical fortune. Though my extended family and the family of my family friends have suffered directly by what seems increasingly statistical misfortune. But the gods of statistics are not just. God is. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Sorrow, then hope, and finally cynicism… Death came with these three. Sorrow. It was reported that over 120 people were murdered, but I was told over 500. Minus 120 people in Kano families, plus 120 people to the daily statistic of deaths in Kano; a minus and a plus but conclusively negative. Then Hope. On the same day, attacks were foiled by stopping and apprehending at least 5 attackers; one was at the hospital treating survivors of the first attack because they wanted to finish what they started. We should also finish what we started. Security is sought in anarchism! Finally Cynicism. The 5 apprehended were all lynched; that is the summary. In two words, Summary Killings. One is reported to be lost to the black hole called Security Services. We are back to where we started. Many injured, between 120 to 500 murdered, 1 attack, 5 killed, 1 foiled attack… conclusion is: we have no idea when the next attack may be, no idea by whom. So when I received a forwarded message seeking my forgiveness because the senders know they may be killed anytime now, any place, now… I didn’t reply. I can forgive deeds done to me, but I won’t forgive giving up, not yet. I don’t think God would in this case either, but God decides how to deal with souls. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Ever since the civilian JTF were made brothers in arms to the rogue JTF, security was found in anarchy. Lynching reign aka Civilian Execution. I don’t forgive giving-up, neither do the murderers apparently. Why else would they seek to attack the hospital treating the wounded but to finish what they started? That is why we must also finish what we started by going from Civilian Execution to Civilian Inquisition; the complete security package of anarchy. Whether it be worse than the Spanish Inquisition, let historians keep the data and compare. When Voltaire argued that torture was not effective in determining truth, I wasn’t there. Geneva Convention on how to treat foiled and repelled attackers… is well really just another convention. For an unidentifiable combatant is no soldier but an assassin, their identities must be unmasked before war is established; then war ethics can be applied. As long as rubber tires scrub these tarred roads, Nigeria is some distance from that future where foiled attackers would not be lynched; burnt in a blazing ring of rubbery fire. Until we walk to that promise land, I say we interrogate them… first; torture if you have to but with skill. With 5 captured attackers, interrogated skilfully, a success rate of 40 percent means 2 out of 5 would have provided us information. By us I don’t mean the Security Forces, I mean we the sitting ducks, the newly discovered Forces of Security. God shall judge our necessary evil. God shall deal with their souls, but oh God, let us deal with their bodies.

 

I admit these words erupt in rage, but I dare say there is evidence of outrage. So do not seek to patronise me by saying my proposal is outrageous. It is neither courageous, nor religious, but it may be called tactical, cold, desperate, probable and these would be right. It may be called savage, lawless and primitive and I hope they find more negative words for at least their vocabulary would have improved, by the time our security improves. This is no complex political theory but if it were a doctrine it would be anarchism, with a heavy dose of activism, a fanatic sanctification of life, a crowd-sourced intelligence to uncover the killers. We have been agonising, let us begin organising, so they might be agonising. This is the time for action, better be anarchistic than anachronistic. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Signed: The Peace Seeking Anarchist

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Picketty For Nigeria

Once I had a chat with a fellow Nigerian about the social injustice implicit in the idea of accumulating monetary interest. His reaction was shock and he was stupefied. He responded “why should I keep money when it wouldn’t work for me”. How can two such people continue a meaningful conversation on this matter? While being aware my religious exposure may have nudged me to think about such matters, I wondered whether to continue engage my chat mate from a historical analysis of his beloved interest or from philosophical inquiry of past sages; which I know so little yet enough to pass the point across. He paralyzed me when I understood that his was such a dogma that chats laden with unreferenced historical claims and modest philosophical arguments could not shake.

Prior to reading Piketty (Capital in The Twenty-First Century), I came across a few review articles on the book which encouraged me to read the book. Now that I have read the book, I can’t quite remember what the reviews were about but I remember the criticism were mild and mostly directed at how difficult his proposed solution would be. I was tempted to make an artsy review which would simply be a fresco of quotes by the author, so that the gist and treasures of the book are captured. If I have more time to myself I would experiment with that in the future. Until then this commentary must do. The reader may wish to jump to subheadings of interest because they could be read independently of each other.

North versus South, Hausa versus Yoruba versus Igbo… these are the sides we are conditioned to choose to identify with. A perenial issue in Nigeria, which threatens its nationhood, has been the North-South divide the most palpable (in history) being Igbos versus other Nigerians. This is a lasting legacy of the 1967 civil war which has been inherited and is being zealously championed by many who were not even born or merely infants at the time. Piketty is faced with a similar situation being from the home of the French Revolution, and Europe where theories of Capitalism and Communism were articulated and defended zealously. However he is a model for Nigerians, he embodies a progressive mind towards development who seeks a goal without the baggage of competing ideologies in their popular forms. Piketty represents a consciousness of distribution rather than simply accumulation which could sit comfortably in the mainstream (Capitalism) without discomfort of ideological mismatch. He doesn’t come in lashing capitalism or communism, or with a lot of bias. He is basically saying: here is the data, what is the best explanation for it, and how do we reach a more just society based on this data?

I belong to a generation that turned eighteen in 1989, which was not only the bicentennial of the French Revolution but also the year the Berlin Wall fell. I belong to a generation that came of age listening to news of the collapse of the Communist dictatorships and never felt the slightest affection or nostalgia for those regimes or for the Soviet Union… I am interested in contributing, however modestly, to the debate about the best way to organize society and the most appropriate institutions and policies to achieve a just social order. – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

And…

The clash of communism and capitalism sterilized rather than stimulated research on capital and inequality by historians, economists and even philosophers – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Moral Ends as Motivation

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is not a difficult read. Simply having interest in social justice and basic understanding of mathematical equality-signs would suffice. The slightly intimidating bits are data analysis which are always broken down in the most plain language, but would slow one’s reading speed simply. Perhaps one would expect a book with such a title to be more focused on economics than social justice. That is not to say there isn’t basic economic concepts, but even those are assumed that the reader has no background them. This approach reflects Piketty’s notion of what the discipline of “economics” is about. It is not simply descriptive as the other social sciences, it is prescriptive. Therefore in studying economics, one should seek to answer the question: how could resources be distributed in the most just way. Perhaps what people assume to be economics is either its unscrupulous counterpart or Finance. Piketty in so many places complains about the presumption of economists to be “scientists” hence the over indulgence in mathematical equations as if to arrive at certainty. Social Sciences however are not concerned with certainty, but with what is most justified. A brief class in economic modelling immediately betrays the multitude of assumptions which are baggage that come with those models; not to mention breakthrough in behavioral psychology where the classic economic rational being is hardly existent. So if social justice is the end, then having this moral motivation is sufficient to get you started on the book; any little math or economics that one learns along the way is simply a means to that end.

Social Science 2.0

Piketty dislikes the name Economic Science, he prefers Political Economy due to its normative and moral aspirations. Therein lies another characteristic of the book and the author. It could be seen simply as a book of Social Science because in it, demarcation between Social Science disciplines collapse. If however one is pressured to confine the content of the book within the least number of disciplines, it would be a book on History and Economics; the former perhaps even more dominant. Even he warns that his book may be too historical for economists and too economist for historians.

The most distinctive thread sustained throughout the book is the use of data which spans centuries, but the most comprehensive ones span the last century. This is why such a book could not have been done before now, but in the future more could be done about it. (If you think the works of economists like Kuznet was such, read further to find out why not). Not only were the data analysed but this was done using best practice of Reproducibility in data analysis; which means for all of the claims Piketty makes, one could go to the internet (url given in the book) and find the data used and the generated graphs; here is a link. One could reproduce all the graphs if they have the time. This is taking book writing to another level! It is book writing 2.0 for the internet age; academic and interactive.

However the author is fully aware of the limitations of the data used which is stated in the analysis. Perhaps more interesting for lovers of literature is Piketty’s use of literature especially Jane Austen and Balzac who lived in interesting times as far as distribution of wealth is concerned. These authors were sensitive to the distribution of wealth in their times and well captured in their books. Makes one wants to re-read some Jane Austen with wealth distribution in mind.

Social Science to Social State 

Given the focus on social justice and normative expectations from this social sciences, the end game for this Social Science is the Social State at its least unjust implementation. The social state is here to stay! Piketty explores the history leading to the social state following the historical development of taxation in Europe. 19th century taxes were low compared to 20th century and as the taxes increased the social state emerged, taking more and more social responsibilities.

In other words, the growth of the fiscal state over the last century basically reflects the constitution of a social state – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

The logic of Piketty’s social state is not simply taking from the rich and giving to the poor, it is a logic of redistribution based on rights. Therefore all, rich and poor, should have what is considered minimum for a decent (honorable) life. Typically attention is focused on education, health and pension. However the threat is wealth inequality. Piketty calls for reformation or updating of the social state, not the dismantling of it.

Looking over the Shoulders of Giants 

It would be nice to say Piketty built on the shoulders of giants but it is more appropriate to say he looked over their shoulders; beyond them while locating them within the view. According to Piketty, Social Sciences so far have been built on few established facts (data) and a lot of speculation. If there was a single economics-giant Piketty built on, it would be Kuznet from whom he refined a methodology, however he looked beyond Kuznet in terms of the amount of data that was analysed which resulted in faulting the conclusions of Kuznet. For other giants like (Malthus, Young, Ricardo and Marx), Piketty criticized their methods and so their conclusions. In the 18th Century was Malthus and Young, in the 19th Century was Ricardo and Marx, in the 20th Century was Kuznet (and Sallow to some extent). By relying on history, Piketty positions them within their contexts such that their claims make sense, however inaccurate. Although credit is given to Marx for seeing the need to formulate a systematic approach to analysing economic realities, it seems there was insufficient data to make such monumental claims. Piketty also points out that Marx’s work was life-long academic work (Das Kapital) defending an earlier work in polemics (The Communist Manifesto).
As for Kuznet, his work is used to explain away glaring inequalities resulting from capitalism because it is theorized as simply a phase before inequalities “naturally” reach an equilibrium, even if this requires many more countries to subscribe to a particular type of capitalist economy. On the data used by Kuznet (which was reported as meticulously analysed), Piketty locates it covering the period of the two world wars which must not be ignored, as if wars of that magnitude recur every few years. Concerning Kuznet’s prescription for more countries to subscribe to a version of capitalism, Piketty locates this prescription coming in the midst of the Cold War where communism was the enemy for USA and Kuznet was addressing economists that make policy for USA. By simply analysing data that spans more than the duration covered by Kuznet, Piketty reaches the conclusion that is contrary to Kuznet. Unfortunately many policies have been made in Europe and North American on this flawed conclusion.
Nonetheless, Piketty commends these past giants for the questions they asked; even if they answered them wrongly

Tabloid Economics 

To laymen of national economic discourse, it felt the issue of rebasing of Nigerian GDP was the most sensational economic topic since removal of petrol subsidy. The discussions were disappointing (the little I followed) because it was discussed like gossip from tabloid, sparsely academic and deficient philosophically. Arduously, it became clear to those interested that nothing has really changed as far as their daily economic activities were concerned. It was simply updating the parameters of calculation, which placed Nigeria ahead of South Africa. No different from football debates and voyerism, but the implication of Nigeria leading South Africa occupied the minds (and collective egos) of many leading to a burst of sudden patriotism. Is a misplaced patriotism still patriotism?
This is no different from obsession of the world, including Nigerians, with Forbes Magazine’s list of wealthiest individuals. Nigeria’s annointed child is Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, whom I celebrate mostly because he represents diversion from idolising rich criminals to the legally rich. Piketty has something to say about the role played by the likes of Forbes Magazine in perpetrating myths that sustain inequality. The myth is that merit makes one wealthy, and high salaries are justified by productivity of managers; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are the poster childs. Piketty warns against taking Forbes Magazine estimates seriously, but perhaps he is ok with their rankings afterall ranking could be deduced without knowing accurate estimation of wealth. Forbes Magazine’s list is simply a more classy MTV cribs or any of those junk TV that glorifies the rich and thereby inculcating the capitalist myth.

Keeping Eyes on the Price

To pull a wool over someone’s eye is to misdirect a person and let the person enact the endgame so the resulting blame or praise is theirs to bare. That is basically what magic tricks are. However in the case of magic, we are aware that something is not right as habit would predict, which leaves us with childlike wonder. The magician deliberately misleads and the price is wonder, we allow ourselves such amusement. In the case of our society, which is the subject of Social Sciences, misdirection is not necessarily intentional (except by sophist politics) nor do we willingly indulge in it (except one thinks like Freud). We blame academic awareness, or the lack of it, and deficient political will for our misdirection. Eventually we get immersed in the amusement of theories and models, we temporarily forget what we are supposed to be looking for… So when someone like Piketty comes to remind us what and where we ought to be looking at, it is highly welcomed.

Piketty takes some of our attention from regalian questions like “how much profit was made” to questions like “what share of profit goes to income and to capital”. The questions we focus on in concerns of economic, reflects our philosophy of what is just; for instance, whether justice is even worth consideration in profit sharing. Other questions Piketty asks are “how important is capital relative to labor in say national income“, “how does rate of return on capital compare to rate of economic growth in terms of the effect on social inequality“. In other words, Piketty redirects our preoccupation with averages and aggregates of income to question on distribution of income.
Three spheres of focus were carved for investigating income inequality: Inequality in labor income; Inequality in ownership of capital and its resulting income; How inequality in labor income deepens inequality in ownership of capital. The last question in other words is asking why does the rich keep getting richer; or to put it in Nigerian context, why does appointing/electing a person into public office becomes the baptism of the person’s lineage into the social class of the wealthy? A related issue is to do with inheritance.

Equality is the norm, and inequality is acceptable only if based on common utility – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Inheritance  

Coming from a religious tradition that has legislated on the formula for sharing inheritance, I find it very important to understand how inheritance may or may not perpetrate social inequality which would lead to social injustice. Piketty identifies inheritance as a major mechanism through which wealth inequality is widened across generations. This information which is not new has not been neglected by some western countries by imposing a tax on inheritance, however they seem to be doing it more as a source of revenue than to restrain inequality. Piketty in several of his proposed solutions (which will be discussed ahead), clearly acknowledges that placing a high tax on the very wealthy is not primarily to generate wealth, instead it is to curb exponentiation of social/income inequality.
The question is not whether inheritance should be abolished or not. Piketty asks instead whether inheritance should be taxed (progressively) or not. I remember more than two years ago I first came across this debate on inheritance but didn’t have the background information to appreciate the claims and prescriptions. To my knowledge, taxes on inheritance either don’t exist or would be so easy to evade in Nigeria given our tax system which is yet to mature; thanks to oil money. It is another question entirely if any Nigerian could be persuaded to pay any tax at all when the government is not accountable. However, I am interested in understanding the role of inheritance in the Nigerian context and if taxing it is the more just thing to do, then how would that be reconciled with religions that have certain prescriptions for it (I see Maqaasid and Istislah saving the day in Islam). I must say though, on the surface, it seems to me inheritance among Nigerians probably reduces inequality because when a wealthy Man has between 5 to 15 children, distributing the wealth is like sharing to a small community; so possible less concentration of wealth compared to Europe. Moreover the Islamic formula allows one to make a will on only one third of wealth; the two third must be shared among family according to a formula which would include extended family.

Class Struggles with Data

We hear that the middle class is this and the middle class is that, as if we know what makes the middleclass. Perhaps because we think we are able to place people in the right class (as lower class, middle class or upper class), we assume we know what the middle class is. The difference between knowing who belongs to middle class and what defines the middle class is a matter of judgement and of analysis respectively. The latter is what concerns our moral inquiry on the justice in inequality. According to Piketty, such classifications are arbitrary and are only important to extract a society’s “implicit and explicit position concerning justice and legitimacy of the amount of income or wealth claimed by a particular group”. Instead Piketty proposes that the useful classifications for discussions on inequality should not be arbitrary but based on something such as centiles and deciles. So that instead of asking “how much wealth does the upper class control”, we ask “how much wealth does the top 10% control”. The occupy wallstreet movement comes to mind, because centiles (and deciles) were their language as their protest was against the top 1%. This classification is also more inclusive in terms of having a strong and well defined base of comrades because in the lower/middle/upper classification, most at the top 20% would have been packed in the same group as those at the top 1% whose realities may be very far apart. Also having this type of classification enables comparison across space and time while grounded in their specific contexts e.g. it is more meaningful for analysis of inequality to compare the how the top 10% differ from the rest in Nigeria and Cameroun than to compare the “upper class” of Nigeria to Cameroun; contries that have different histories and different parameters.
Unfortunately to use centiles and deciles, data on wealth of individuals is required. This is lacking in Nigeria. Another interesting observation is how the middle-class classification and the decile/centile classification reflects the thoughts of Marx and Piketty respectively. Piketty views the shortcoming of Marx as not having adequate data (which was expensive in their time anyway), so Marx formed a system of classification quantitatively arbitrary but made possible due to high inequality. On the other hand, Piketty relies much on data in addition to a system of classification which enables centile and decile classifications in many analysis (Paretto’s type of analysis which is often used polemically and heuristically can now be backed by data in some parts of the world). Class struggle of the future should be based on centiles/deciles.

Claims and Solutions

I hope to summarize Piketty’s claims and the solutions proffered with as little detail as possible. Here are the two major discoveries from the vast data. First, distribution of wealth (and income) is decided by political acceptance of what it just, it is not deterministic based on economic forces. Second, the direction of distribution of wealth is determined by underlying forces of convergence and divergence. Forces of covergence, which close the gap of inequality, include mainly diffusion of knowledge and skills across population especially the least well off. Forces of divergence, which widens the gap of inequality, are higher rate of returns on capital than rate of economic growth in the longrun; which is boosted even further the more central role capital plays in an economy. Current trend is that forces of divergence are more potent given the current configuration of most capitalist societies.
The basic solution would be to sustain forces of convergence and constrain forces of divergence, justly. For the latter, the recommendation is to levy a progressive tax on Capital (not simply on income), which should be done globally as it would be a joke otherwise given globalization and tax havens. Progressive tax means those with most wealth are taxed higher percentages. A requirement for this would be more accurate data on ownership in countries, which would then be shared among countries. This would not replace progressive income tax but compliment it. Result of the historical analysis demands a new solution to the monstrosity of capitalism because even instruments like progressive income tax and pension systems, which are creations in particular historical contexts and capitalism, have become more complicated since then.
Faithful to his aversion to Economics-as-Science, and understanding the importance of politics to economic norms, Piketty only offers these solutions as a starting point so that ultimately democratic debates shall decide. But he has provided the criticisms, the data, the analysis and possible solutions.

If we are to regain control of capitalism, we must bet everything on democracy – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

After the cancerous insecurity in Nigeria, I think the issue of inequality raised by Piketty comes next, parallel to lack of industries and bad education system. That it because in setting up industries and education systems, long term inequality that may be perpetrated by the system should be considered. Piketty is willing allow debates and responses to enrich his proposed solutions, and perhaps make it even suitable to economies of the third world. If not 2015 (presidential election), then maybe 2019, we need a Piketty for Nigeria!

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