Monthly Archives: August 2014

Micro-Marxism… Or Something Like It

What would the analysis of a household look like? What would a discipline inquiring into the socio-economic relations within a household look like? Even though the taught subject of Home Economics captures the essence of economics in it’s recognition of resource allocation, it is a no brainer because it is all built on capitalist assumptions which is reflected in its unbounded choices of the consumer. Perhaps Sociology in a nuclear family would better capture socio-economic relations. Perhaps Anthropology of polygamous homes. One of my favorite descriptive lenses is Marxism, even though I have only cursory knowledge of it. I find its analyses enlightening and refreshing even while disagreeing  with its fundamental assumptions; hence my disagreement with its prescriptions. The Marxist analyses rests on the belief that social relations can be (solely) explained by means of production; therefore social relations should change as means of production (technology) changes, or else social contradictions (class struggle) will result. Means of production is the base, nature of social relations is the outcome. Economic systems are build on social realities. Therefore economic systems built on contradictory social relation, results in a contradictory economic system, which is Capitalism.
I wonder if this Marxist approach could be used to analyse intra-household relationship; the social relations within a domestic space. Although borrowing from Marxism, the economic relation within a household is not relevant because little or no economic activities take place completely within the house, and also because the societal economic atmosphere affects the household social relations, perhaps manifesting significantly in home architecture (more on this ahead). As the real Marxist looks at means of production, I would like to look at home architecture to see how it affects or results in the social relations in a household. It is tempting to attempt to understand this matter through the lenses resembling Marxist spectacles.
Due to my limited understanding, I am not able to use the equivalent of Marxist “scientific” jargons but shall attempt to use plain language to understand the power relation within a typical nuclear household;; ignoring extraneous influences for now. Even more specific is to focus on the relationship between a husband and a wife; and by extension their respective house guests. Power (social) relations can only be interesting for analysis if one side enjoys more privilege than the other. What better framework to use to discuss systemic inequality than Marxism, or something inspired by it.
So, architecture. I am more familiar with the architecture of a typical North-Nigerian households, which I find quite consistent even across religions. I wonder why I haven’t paid attention to architectures of different cultures within Nigeria. But this is not comparative exercise, it is an inquiry, with some hypothesis for descriptions. Perhaps other cultures shall be examined at another time. How could the architecture of a typical North-Nigerian household be different from any other in cosmopolitan cities like the capital where tenants rent buildings regardless of cultural background? By architecture, it is not meant the physical architecture, but the effective architecture which is imposed on the physical architecture.
Physical architecture simply provides physical space. With the exception of special-purpose spaces like kitchen and toilets, other spaces are essentially rooms which could be molded into whatever the tenants decide (except those dictatorial capitalist landLORDS who coopt tenants to use certain rooms for sitting rooms and nothing else using contracts; that essential weapon of a capitalist). Assume such capitalist overseer is not present, for now. Therefore tenants have the choice to decide whether to have a sitting-room or not, to have a sleeping-room or not, to have shared rooms or separate, if separate which room belongs to the husband or the wife, will there be a room reserved for guests, will the guest room be dedicated to guests or will it double as something else? This effective architecture will hopefully reveal what underlies and defines social relations within a household, and it is what is meant as architecture in this post. Since no “scientific terms”, we shall explain with examples.
First let us take the simple case of a household with two sleeping rooms, a sitting-room and the special purpose spaces (kitchens, toilets etc.). Assume the husband and the wife have separate sleeping rooms, one for each. The scene is set, now the social relations can be observed. A typical situation is that when the husband has guests, they OCCUPY the sitting-room. The wife is confined to the inner room. This default allocation of spaces in presence of husband’s guests comes from tradition, which is external to the house architecture, and which we take as a given since we are dealing with the typical North-Nigerian household. Beyond this, we shall observe the effect of architecture  which is our interest. Now if the wife has to get to the kitchen and the kitchen requires she crosses the sitting-room, then she is likely to make prudent use of her passes to and fro the kitchen. It is expected she doesn’t interrupt the occupiers every now and then. If however to get to the kitchen, she doesn’t need to cross the sitting room, then her ecosystem has been defined. She can now transition freely between room and kitchen. The right place of a woman?
So in this scenario, the choice of the woman’s room and how it is accessible to her “favorite” rooms, would decide the liberty she enjoys in the presence of husband’s guests. The more liberty she enjoys, the less free she feels amidst the husband’s company because she might not have cause to interact with them when she can move between her room and say the kitchen without meeting them. Is this what Marxists call dialectic?! In the opposite case, the opposite follows. The implication of this to social-relation between husband and wife is the degree to which the two live a double life, as a couple and as individuals with friends, given a particular architecture.
Still on the same scenario, assume the wife receives guests. Unlike the husband’s friends, they wouldn’t occupy the sitting room because she has her room; again due to traditions external to the house. So her guests are hosted in her room and are OCCUPIED within it. This time the wife is free to get to the kitchen because only the husband is probably in the sitting-room; however her friends probably wouldn’t feel so easy. Interestingly, when the husband is out of the house, the wife and her friends are able to occupy the sitting-room, just like the guys. Is being male or female a relative status depending on the presence of competition?… In the two variations, given the same architecture and tradition/culture, the social relation between husband and wife mainly reinforces the culture which was decided outside of the house architecture; even though the choice of architecture influences the degree of double life.
One thing that is rare, or which I have seen rarely, is for the husband to retreat to his room and allow for the “girls” to occupy the sittingroom as was granted to the “boys”. What if the husband has the equivalent of a kitchen, if not THE kitchen, to keep busy if needed; a garage would be the American equivalent but it is difficult to picture Nigerian married men having a hobby other than watching TV.
Let us look at a second case of the same house with a slight variation to the first architecture: assume the husband and wife share a sleeping-room. Therefore there is a spare room which in this case is used as the dining room. When the husband’s friends visit, they occupy the larger sitting room as in the previous case. When the wife has guests, they cannot use the sleeping room since it is also the husband’s private area. It means the husband would have to allow the girls to OCCUPY the sitting-room, while the husband is OCCUPIED in their shared sleeping-room! In other words, architecture subverts external cultural dictates which defined social relationship between husband and wife.
Between the two architectures explored, are interesting points to speculate about domestic social relations. Simply put, the external social tradition (North-Nigerian) is reinforced by the first architecture, whereas the second architecture is defiant. In both cases where one of the spouse has to make way for the other, double life is a consequence, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and perhaps not completely avoidable. Would it be possible to manipulate household architecture to minimize gap between the double life?
Other interesting scenarios in these two cases is what happens when there are mixed guests; either the husband hosting female guests or the wife hosting male guests. In that case is there consistency e.g. does the location of hosting guests determined by who the host is, or the sex of the guest, or a mixture of both, or does one of the factors seem to dominate in determining the hosting location? What about when the guests are neither for the husband or the wife alone but for the couple, where are they hosted; which factor dominates in determining the location? See how the social relations is getting complex?
To map the socio-economic aspect of this, we need to map these simple and complex social relations to economic realities. For instance, the assumption here is a family where the husband is the breadwinner. What if the woman is the breadwinner, does everything attributed to the husband get reversed and fall on her? Or is there a glass ceiling for wives? Or is glass ceiling the wrong way to look at it and should be called accommodation instead?
So far, what was explored are very simple cases (husband and wife, with one sitting room and two other rooms). What if we add a second sitting-room, or a dedicated guest-room etc? This envisioned complexity is why a Marxist-type analysis may assist in making sense, even if simplified, of this relations using a “scientific” approach. Perhaps a theory could come out to make sense of the apparent complexity of the socio-economic interaction between physical architecture, culture, and means of production of a family. Charity begins at home. Marxism should begin at home!

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Civilian Execution to Inquisition

Just as echoes of a debate die down, facts surfaced which leaves our optic nerves unscathed but offends our moral sensibilities, injures our memory, disgusts our imagination and calls for action. The debate I refer to concerns how much effort Nigerians put in activism towards the Nigerian struggle, when much needed zeal is expended to the Palestinian struggle. The facts that surfaced is a gruesome footage reported by amnesty international which shows the atrocities (war crimes) of Nigerian military and Civilian JTF (which is a “State sponsored militia”). The relevance of the facts to the debate is that some Nigerians seem to be doing their part in documenting the ongoings of this unfortunate situation even if not enough according to some standards, for instance the brave soul that recorded the video and shared it, or the brave souls that forwarded what was recorded for sadistic exploits. Amnesty International depends on many of such Nigerians to gather their reports. I guess when you are the primary target of both Military and Boko Haram, you can’t but take it personal.

“When you fit the profile of a predator’s prey, you can’t help but to take the crimes personally” Amalia Ortiz

I recall an earlier report by Amnesty International in 2012 “Nigeria Trapped in the Cycle of Violence“, which depended a lot on such testimonies from Nigerians on ground. Having heard too many gruesome/unsettling stories on atrocities committed by both sides of the militia, it was a relief to have it reported by Amnesty International, whose voices matters more than the thousands of Nigerians. Perhaps that is why we must leverage on them. The Nigeria Police at the time responded to the report basically rejecting what we hoped was the gap filled by Amnesty International; which is credibility. Their argument was along the lines of: since Amnesty International gets its information from the same Nigerians (whom we refuse to take seriously), therefore we should not take the report seriously. Seriously?! They embarked on investigating the (written) report rather than the events reported. I was fumed with angered at hearing that fallacy of equivocation from the Nigeria Police, to dismiss the claims when it was common knowledge at least to those in the North East, meaning the fear was real. So angered, I wrote a Spoken Word Poem to that effect titled after the JTF as Green Demons of Death.

The intention is not to distract that ongoing debate but to give a background, because context matters. The dismissive attitude of security authorities leaves the psyche of the Nigerian destabilized because either they don’t care or we don’t know what they know even though we are to tell them what they should know.

No buildings, roads or other infrastructure can be seen in the video but the noise of cars confirms that it is near a road. Several of the armed captors are wearing military uniforms, one of which has the words “Borno State Operation Flush” emblazoned on the front. The ID number on one of the guns is also clearly identifiable (81BN/SP/407). According to military sources, the rifle belongs to the Support Company of the 81 Battalion and it has not been reported missing. – Amnesty International Secretary General

As to the latest report by Amnesty International, the response came from the Nigerian Military, and theirs was a more diplomatic “we shall investigate the allegations”; saner than the police two years ago. Notwithstanding, the Military has not yet decided to conclude its investigation on an assault reported some weeks earlier on the Shi’a Community during an annual procession, leading to the death of at least 12 civilians including 3 sons of the Shi’a leader, and 40 others injured. Nonetheless certain level of depravity is not unexpected, because war in the modern sense is but depravity amplified by technology. The result is security authorities are quick to turn rebellions and terrorist attacks into total wars; where combatants and non-combatants are not separated. Their license to kill is not only technological, it has its roots in the intellectual.

“Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Some days ago, or weeks ago, more took place but nothing was put down, as is often the case; no documentation. It was heard, by me, and many others who knew someone in Yobe State. The epistemilogical status of the incident is that of oral traditions (of folklore). Accurate or not, the government would not act on it, even though the story may stir the emotions of those in Yobe. The story goes:

A young girl covered in a particular type of Muslim female covering concealed a bomb but had to cross the street to get to her target. She was dropped from a car driven by another man, who is her overseer. In the course of crossing the street she nearly got involved in an accident which caused a bit of commotion and attention fell on her. She seized that opportunity to expose the ploy, after her overseer had come out of his car to see her through the mission. She shouted that he is going to kill her, and a lynch mob soon wrapped their heads around what she meant. They killed the man and the girl is saved. This is how the story was told.

The story, and similar accounts, inspired me write a Spoken Word Poem telling the story above.

I wasn’t sorry for the field mastermind who was killed by the mob, I wasn’t especially happy that lives were saved because to do that would be to lower our expectations for preservation of life, I was interested in the evidence; who was the man, the girl and how they fit in relation to the source of terror. The girls are remoured to be among those captured by Boko Haram (which would include Chibok girls among others) but there is at least one known case of a male impostor. As evidence, the girl is not so interesting because she seems to be a victim herself, but the man is interesting because we expect him to know something about his conviction and how that translates to his allegiance to this terror. Unfortunately he was contaminated, he was exterminated. We have been protected. But are we, when we know so little about the enemy (or enemies)?

Mob killing is an incident that would be of interest for documentation, but it hardly makes progress unless we concede that avoiding retrogression progress. To solve the problem, locating the source of the problem is crucial. A phantom enemy who today is Boko Haram, and tomorrow is a non-Muslim, is utterly destabilizing and misleading. To kill attackers and foil attacks is to deal with symptoms that were fortunately discovered in good time, it does not solve the problem. In the case of lynch mobs, why aren’t they reasonable enough to capture these people and hand them to authorities? If they were reasonable, they wouldn’t be a mob. They might not have handed to authorities, but from past incidents we know what happens to those that have been apprehended by the authorities, or at least we know what did not happen to them. Perhaps someone in the government forgot that information is itself security, and the lack of it is not only insecurity, but a threat actually. No wonder we have conspiracy theories that explain the situation so perfectly. I don’t have the details of the conspiracy theory but below is a prototype of it:

Mr A was captured as the bomber of a Church
Miss B was captured as the bomber of Church
Mr C was captured as the failed bomber of Mr X
Mr D was identified after he successfully detonated himself with a bomb
It has been reported that military helicopters supply “Boko Haram”
Mr A is a Muslim of North origin, from Boko Haram
Miss B is a non-Muslim of South origin, not from Boko Haram
Mr C is a non-Muslim of South origin, not from Boko Haram
Mr D is a Muslim of North origin, a militiant, but unlikely from Boko Haraam
We only hear about Mr A and Mr D as Boko Haram from the State Security
We don’t hear anything about Mrs B and Mr C, we don’t know about their whereabouts

As critical as one is about conspiracy theories, one has to sometimes suppress the urge to believe the conspiracy theory which is so coherent especially in absence of a more convincing alternative. When alternatives lack coherence with fact, conspiracy theories seem as elegant as scientific theories; and the scientific thing to do is embrace explanations that best explains facts. See how elegantly the axioms are posited, how they connect chronologically capturing the tides of history, and how sneaky the conclusion presents itself even without stating… All this intellectual perversion because we know better/more.

It is not difficult to see the goverment’s complicit hand in sustaining this mess. Why else was it so easy to beileve the former governor of Adamawa state who alleged government’s passive collusion. Talk about passive aggressive. This is coming from a retired Military Admiral who is in a good position to estimate what the military can do, and can’t do, and what it could allow to occur unfettered. Whatever the truth of this, his career adorns him with that authority to speak on such matters, and be believed. There is just so much we don’t know, so we seek the best available explanation that takes into account the known facts.

My interest on the human evidence sparked a radical idea, though lacking novelty, on the situation. I am having increasing appeal towards the idea of having Civilians protect themselves from both insurgents and security authorities. Hail Nigeria where a household is its own government as it is proudly said; generating its own electricity, pumping its own water from the subterranean, and protecting oneself. In other words, the idea of Civilian JTF appealed to my Nigerian. Our instinct to survive aligns with our Nigerian-ness.

Unfortunately the Civilian JTF are not any better than the JTF since their defense tactic is as offensive and criminal. What we hoped for was that what Civilian JTF lacked in skill, they would compensate in ethics. Unfortunately no. The Civilian JTF is no different from a lynching mob, except that they are drunk in the audacity and arrogance typical of the military, in addition to government support.

In light of the contamination of human evidences by lynching mobs, the failure of the government to protect, the success of JTF and Civilian JTF in committing war crimes, and the acceptance of the idea of a civilian militia (Civilian JTF) in the psyche of Nigeria, I propose civilian interrogators! This would be a group of civilians with some training in the art of interrogation, perhaps commensurate to Civilian JTF in armed engagement, who have the credibility to interfere between the lynch mobs and human evidences. The Civilian Interrogators could also work with Civilian JTF if that is possible. Yes at this point I must say torture may not be avoidable…

Some of the values of having a Civilian Interrogators is that they would have the skill to reasonably separate the rightly accused from the wrongly accused. The Civilian Interrogators would require some basic interrogation skills not so much for a humane approach but so that their method would have credibility to those who might use the intel gathered. Other benefits of Civilian Interrogators would be… who cares?! This is not a pretty idea I am trying to sell, which is why there’s no powerpoint presentation, no beautifully bound companion proposal, just an ugly alternative to a hideous situation. Perhaps when the mob has Intel, things would change, for better or worse… It sure isn’t getting better.

Eventually this could lead to an Open Source community of Intel gathering where civilians could answer the question of who are the belligerents (in addition to the scape goat Boko Haram) in the country. A modest expectation is to answer that question within smaller geographic boundaries. Sift the opportunist criminals from the organized criminals from those who profit from manipulating these two groups. From Execution to Inquisition.

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