Monthly Archives: February 2015

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
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.

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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