To be ‘content’ is not easy, be it at the level of the individual or its aggregates (community, society, etc.) For a start, ‘Contentedness’ is a combination of many factors. Cutting out the more physiological and spiritual aspects, we can say it is built up, for the most part, with other positive C’s: Confidence, Competence, Conscience, Credibility, Correctness, Compassion, Criticality, Caution, Caliber, Congeniality, Collaboration, Conscious, Cordiality, Concern, Connectedness, Completeness and also Cut the Crap, etc. When the sum total of the above C’s weighs heavily, we believe, ‘Contentedness’ is approximated, though hardly achieved it is like ‘the pursuit of happiness’ thingy. This is one of the tricks life plays on us. On the other hand when the above summation of the C’s (for the sake of convenience, we will call this summation sigma from now on) gravitate to a low level, serious pathological behaviors are displayed on the part of the individual or its aggregates.
There are times when those with lower sigma number take over the business of running collective social existence. We could mention a whole lot of such historical happenings, but not to tax the ahistorically inclined, we will avoid them this time around. Not surprisingly, at least to those initiated, we are now living in one such historical moment. The corporate dominated and influenced life, be it at the level of the individual or its aggregates, cannot possibly foster a high sigma number. For all intent and purposes, the modern world system is propelled by values other than the above humane ones. The main organizing principle of modernity is the profit motive driven by ‘machine-think’, rather than ‘human-think’ bordering the insanely inhumane! See Ostrander’s article on page 50.
For example, a ‘ministry of defense’ or more appropriately a ‘war ministry’ cannot realistically perform its killing business by operating fast and hard on the primacy of ‘killing is bad’ ethics. A food processor’s primary objective is not necessarily to make healthy/nutritious products; its goal is, first and foremost, to make money. As a result, corners will be cut and misinformation is used as marketing weapon, like in the case of the ‘sugar free’ advert. If a product is sugar free and sweet, then it must have artificial sweetener, but the consequences of using this product are conveniently hidden from the gullible public eye, compliment of the states, particularly of the captured types. Situations like these are the norm throughout the profit system, including healthcare services; hospitals, etc.
Let us throw in some of our characteristic stupid questions. What are the ramifications of a low sigma numbered state? How can a particular society manage the tension between the desire for a harmonious collective existence on one hand and profit motivated ‘machine-think’ that underpins modernity on the other? What are the procedures by which we can identify and weed out psychopaths from positions of responsibility, particularly in the public sector?
Raising such questions at this juncture is tantamount to answering them by half! To be sure, like many other countries, Ethiopia also has its share of psychopaths running private/public institutions of prominence/prestige, compliment of nepotism and corruption. See Schwartz’s article next column. Incidentally, new researches are suggesting the trait of ‘nepotism’ to be an inherited one! If that is the case, we must vigilantly fight to exclude those prone to the affliction form assuming positions of responsibility in public life! Imagine allowing state enterprises, such as Ethiopian Airline or the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, or others to be run on the basis of nepotism and corruption? Misadventures of these sorts will ultimately result in serious backlash from within and without. Remember the cry for ‘dignity’ on the streets of North Africa and the Middle East?
Traditional societies that are not completely mutilated yet, (psychologically speaking) by the combination of the background destitution and the alienating modernity, must seriously appreciate their positions in the world system. See Kelland’s article on page 50. Ethiopia, by accident of history, is amongst the very rare countries, not to have succumbed completely to this grave ailment, (low sigma) despite its relative poverty. It is still a society where the above values are still valid, at least at the level of principle. That is why perceptive visitors from outside are almost always perplexed by the generalized ‘Contentedness’ they encounter across the country, despite the obvious material impoverishment. Using the crystallizing language of the streets, many of them express the sentiment as: ‘you guys have it together; don’t let it go!’ On the other hand and blinded by heavy doses of received wisdom, our ‘unworthy interpreters’ (Soyinka’s ‘The Interpreters’ comes to mind) are still pushing us to go for a low sigma number, and not always inadvertently! To the credit of our prestigious research department, (Kebele pub house) we have ascertained this fact successfully and scientifically a long time ago! The question arises; which segment of society must lead the preservation of Ethiopia’s relative uniqueness in this ‘Contentedness’ department?
By and large, the emerging formal private sector has been a disgrace all round, without much saving grace and certainly is not up to the challenge! Civil society (religious, NGOs, GNOGs, etc) have settled for a much narrowed scope and have become easy prey to the same old logic of the private sector. Nowadays, their calling seems to be more and more; ‘have money will travel!’ The generalized anguish (low sigma) that prevails within a significant component of our Diaspora is quite understandable and as sympathetic souls we are more than willing to tolerate its various attention-seeking behaviors; (however ridiculous at times) but to think it can assume the monumental task at hand is quite a different matter altogether, nothing short of a preposterous proposition! After all, the Diaspora in its collectivity is neither here nor there and to be honest it is probably more there than here.
We are afraid it is the state, yet again, that must carry the lion’s share of the above responsibility to preserve Ethiopia’s rare heritage. By the state, it is meant a concerned and organically connected (with the people) structural entity whose interests lie beyond the coming and going of various governments, elected or otherwise! Take heed of Ethiopia’s own proverb: “The gold in your hand is treated as copper.” Good Day!