Sunday, January 29, 2006

On thinking..

I gave my first "How to Think" training session yesterday with an IT company based in Abuja. I've been planning to do this course for months, but bouts of illness and procrastination have delayed and delayed. Also, a secret nag about balance has taken its toll: to get people to really start thinking (rather than bovine normative regurgitation - chewing on the social cud), I think people need to be shocked and confused into it. I know as a philosophy student 15 years ago, I began to think almost as a fight for ontological survival. I was so utterly confused and bewildered by the cacaphony of informed arguments clamouring for my attention. But in Nigeria, where God is all and questions are squeezed to the margins, given that I want to flog my pony to a corporate market, I've worried that I would upset too many apples from the theistic cart and they wouldnt enjoy the experience.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. My friend's is lucky that his company is full of bright young things, waiting for an opportunity to begin their day with a thought. The session was a gruelling 9 hours long. Underneath, there was a prevailing idea la need (see Teju Cole's recent entry on this subject) - in other words a "cut to the chase/gimme the meat" impatience, and a sense in which conceptual rigour can (and should) all too quickly slip into conceptual approximation. But the general pulse was of a hunger to sharpen critical faculties being fed. I'm glad I've finally started. I'll need to improve the course for next time - now I have a better sense of the prevailing weaknesses.But my worry is that all my energies will dissipate a week or so after the event, and God will resume his role as the unquestioned Authority in a world lacking the interrogative.

Nigeria is by and large an uncritical society; this is not to say there aren't thousands of people with critical things to say here. Rather, it is that any criticism is taken to be negative. The idea of productive criticism - criticism for the sake of improving something, not simply to destroy it, is not present. And the idea that one can have heightened reflexive awareness is not present: asking oneself as deeply as one can: who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going? The most precious thing any society can have is its own internally generated questions: questions the young ask of the old, and questions the old ask the young, and questions the middle-aged ask of themselves. Its time that Nigeria asked itself the question: who am I and where am I going?


Teju Cole 4:07 pm  

You are doing wonderful, vital work, Jeremy. And it is especially wonderful because, in doing it, you are opening yourself up to the usual stupid criticisms ("Does this oyinbo guy think he can just come here..." blah blah blah).

We need to think, we need open minds. Not just because that leads to prosperity, but because it can help people find something like true fulfilment (not the druggy haze of "I'm struggling but I dare not show it").

Nigeria was damn hard for me, emotionally and intellectually. But the signs of life were sufficient to lodge something substantial in my psyche. I know I must return, at some point. I know there is work I must do for, in and about Nigeria in years to come.

The place has infected me. I've spent more time thinking about (and being irritated at) Naija in the past month than I have in the preceding decade.

What our country needs is individuals who are prepared to contest it. We need gadflies. Folks who refuse to shut the hell up. We need a big national argument. You are part of that argument, as are many of the emerging cadre of young bloggers.

Cyblug 4:58 pm  

Insightful post Jeremy,
I'd like to make a comment in a rambling, round about manner.

If you want to find out all the possible deviations that can occur from a system, test it out in Nigeria First. You will be amazed.

I remeber when Governor Tinubu decided to pass a Law that required, anybody caught driving on the wrong side of the road to be taken in for a psychiatric evaluation it seemed ridiculous at first but there was brilliance in that also ...don't you sometimes wonder if people think in lagos traffick? my point being , for a little while it worked,

In all that chaos, if you bring "Madness" into the equation, the average "lagosian" wants nothing to do with it .

-- The Irony being in reality it takes a little craziness to live in Lagos.

Nigeria is a land of thinkers, Deep thinkers/quick thinkers infact,

If you can't think you can't survive....

Jeremy , your house in Abuja, If you leave the compound uncared for just
6 months there will be weed growing out from cracks in the concrete, 3 years untouched and birds,rodents and snakes would have moved in the weather would have played its part and very soon everything would have reverted back to nature. You will be amazed at how easily this occurred.

"Nigeria is a land of thinkers, Deep thinkers/quick thinkers infact,"

The problem is POVERTY and DESPERATION has driven people to the point where "Thinking" In the manner you described is a luxury.

Before thinking, who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going?

People are too busy thinking ,Im HUNGRY! where will I get food to eat, I need a ROOF, I need to SURVIVE... and If they are not doing that they are busy figuring out how to FAKE THE 'IDEA" OF THE LIFESTYLE.

(apologies for the long commentry)

Anonymous,  5:26 pm  

Jeremy, I don't often I agree with some of the things you say, but they because they generally provoke me to return or dwell in places i'd rather not go. That is why I sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to many of your postings. TC is right, I often think "who the fuck is this I-too know Oyinbo". But I know that it is because I am caught in a corner and I feel defensive. Your friend (at least in the blogging world), Teju Cole also grates my nerves. But because I know he is nigerian I excuse him, only to think, it is okay for him to to stay in his ivory tower in the US pontificating to us here. But I now know that both of you have taken me on a journey that has been painful but rewarding. A journey that has opened me to a life time of questioning. I feel O my God, these are young men, they are younger than me for God sake. What have I done with the last 40yrs of my life?

I use to think, thinking is a luxury , but it is definitely not. It is part of what it means to survive and live in the world. Nigerians do more than just think about their belies, they are also looking for creative ways of surviving. That sign of molous NO EVENT NO HISTORY is deep thinking. But what i think Jeremy is getting at is that until we start really asking ourselves the fundamental questions about who we are, what is the nature of existence , why am I here, why am born I into this suffering and wretchedness, we will continue to go hungry.

Thinking is not a luxury. Hunger doesn't make people stop thinking. In actual fact, when we really think about it, we will see that when people are truly hungry the imagination can often take over. Most of the great artifice of civilisation has beeen created under intense state of anguish and hunger. It is that hunger that has generated some profound transformation and work of art. Lets witness the kind of creativity that is taking place in Ajegunla in Lagos. In the school where I teach, some of the most brilliant and deep thinking young girls are the ones who come from nothing, they are the ones you know that will only eat one meal for the day, the ones who will hawk the street after and before school. Yet , they ask us the most difficult questions that we as teachers can rarely answer so we shut them down.

Lets be honest, most Nigerians are not deep thinkers. Quick thinkers yes. but deep thinkers. definitely not. THis is not to say there aren't deep thinkers in Nigeria, only that most of us (myself included) are just happy to continue with the status quo and not ask questions of our pastors, leaders etc. because we are too damn scared to ask questions of ourselves.

cyblug 5:50 pm  

Hmmm! Hmmm! Hmmm!
Mr Anonymous!

I never said thinking was a luxury i said thinking in the manner jeremy described is now a luxury.

Im Nigerian and I know many other Nigerians who are Deep thinkers and also quick thinkers.

And correction we were born into a beautiful land with abundant resources etc Human beings mismanaged it and now we are wretched.

so my point is we are no longer able to ask those fundermental questions anymore because people are pre-occupied by other questions.

And Im not happy to accept status quo ,I Point out crap all around me.all the time when i see it especially from "Leaders" because they should know better....

Ebere 3:09 pm  

I hate to admit it but a lot of waht you said is true.I can still remember my dads frustration when he returned to work in Naija after a very long sabbatical, the taps were not running, The electricity was as good as non existent for quite a while, Our phone line seemed to work on and off, and we had this nagging suspicion that we were sharing a line with some other person.

Hold on a minute, there are good things about the Naija system sometimes.
I remember filling out my passport form and collecting the Passort three days later, In London i had to wait a week.
And if you have a nice family house somewhere in the Village far away form the noisiest and nosiest of your relations,you may well get a decent nights sleep and a dose of peace that you will find hard to get anywhere else in the world.
No jokes - im serious.

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