Issue #5 — Autophagy, the inescapable end of Gluttony I
I am putting the final article in the series Escaping the Poverty Trap into Development on hold. The final article will look at the role of manageable family sizes in escaping poverty. This article takes a critical look at avarice and wealth aggrandisement and its consequences. The article was first published in 2012 on my blogspot and nothing and it is being republished here for your read.
The ‘ouroboros’ is an ancient symbol of a serpent swallowing its own tail. It symbolises the cycle of life, death and rebirth. This renewal is not different from the mythical phoenix that is believed to evolve itself out of its ashes at the point of death. However, if this ouroboros symbol is supplanted onto the current cultural and developmental phase of Ghana, it would represent something that is absolutely antithetical to the life-death-birth symbolism we have come to accept.
In Ghana, the ouroboros is likely to have a literal meaning: a people swallowing their own tail and if we are bold enough to remove this clumsy synecdoche it would mean a people eating up themselves, or simply autophagy. And this is a natural outcome of our inherent greed and gluttonous scramble for wealth; an intoxication that is deadlier than what absolute alcohol could possibly be or even crack. For wanton search, unaccompanied or unbalanced by a kind heart, a positively skewed mental astuteness, or any virtue that connects the seeker as an individual to the heart of the whole, always results in chaos. Mahatma Gandhi aptly defined this when he espoused his seven dangers to human virtue. According this intellectual the seven dangers to human virtue are wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, business without ethics, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice and politics without principle. It is a combination of these diametric dipolar principles that has pushed humanity closer to a social, and possibly physical, extinction. In Ghana, one can easily find a mix of wealth without hard work, business without ethics and politics without principle mixed in a crude titration, catalysed by egoism, whose end point is as disastrous as any nuclear cataclysm; for the fragrance of any such a recipe almost always waft towards societal unrest. We have reached a stage where wealth has earned itself a titular rank worth the sacrifice of death; where it is pleasurable and rewarding to be described as ‘Mr X the rich man from…’.
This relentless quest for wealth, with the sole purpose of self-gratification, hedonism and epicureanism, possibly took roots in our limbic brain when our tribal leaders sold us for bottles of alcohol, clothes, mirrors, and gunpowder to enforce the trade and to maintain that desired standard of living. If the seeds were sown at that time, of which — without any research paper available to me — I can only conjecture, then the earliest politicians, not the traditional ones who led tiny tribal groups but those who made themselves beacons of hope and representatives and fighters for the peoples’ needs and took over the mantle of leadership after the colonialists departed and those who overtook those who had already taken over through manipulations and other means both militant and civilian, watered the seeds and supervised its growth until it bore fruits.
And once the fruits developed, dried, burst and dispersed, the people began to shrink from the whole like a living cell dipped into brine and to think in singular terms of ‘I’ and ‘me’, discarding the ‘we’ and ‘us’ that pervaded our speeches and conversations and dominated our actions as a people. The period where one’s health is measured in terms of the health of others, where greetings could take years to complete because the greeter is asking of the person he had greeted the health status of his family from the great grandfather all the way down to the cows; this period that has grown thin and distant in time has now been handed over to arcadian novelists for them to relive in their books few would read and boring history professors who would raise them in lecture theatres to unwilling ears stuffed with the parochial quest for wealth.
Ironically, our quest for wealth, to be filthy rich, has converged with our growing sense of egocentrism so that today, we have become a people lost to ourselves, permanently disfigured in mind, body and soul. Our oneness has been lost and along with it our singular humanity. Consequently, this unidirectional journey, which has shifted the tectonic plates of our value systems, has made us careless and unquestioning consumers of the ape’s hand — chewing chunks of them without comparing them with ours; swallowing tailored tales and believing dogmas that put the unit (or individual) ahead of the whole (or the people). Initially, this quest for wealth was aimed at displaying the elements it manifested itself in like cars and houses, gifts to friends and family, careless sponsoring of people and others. In fact such display led to many positive externalities which, though in some cases were geared towards gratifying the giver, ended up helping many others. There are successful individuals today who can, if they be honest, refer to a great assistance provided them by a completely unrelated, previously-unknown individual that propelled them to their present state of wealth. Though this blatant display of wealth has not ceased, the positive externalities it sheds is in its senescent phase and from whence cometh our problems.
It is not for nothing that Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in which he writes that markets are cleared, resources are efficiently and effectively allocated, and prices set, when individuals seek their self-interest at the market place has been ‘defeated’ by John Nash when in his quest for an original idea unencumbered by existing theories and paradigms discovered that applying Smith’s theory would lead to chaos. Nash’s analyses put the individual and whole together so that best results are obtained when individuals operate in the interest of themselves and of the group within which they find themselves. Nash’s original thinking led to another branch of economics known as Game Theory with the author earning himself a Nobel Laureate in Economics. A Beautiful Mind is a movie adaptation of Nash’s life. And it must be said that since theories are tools to be used, this theory is also being applied in ways antithetical to the subject matter being discussed here.
Gradually, the family system, as it was known and appreciated, withered and its many casualties included brothers and sisters, cousins (which has no Twi word equivalence because such individuals are always ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’), aunties, uncles, parents, grandparents, leading to the nuclear family system. This particular social change has been cited as one of the causes of streetism. The other causes, such as the attractions of urban centres to rural folks, are also related to a mix of egoism and parochialism.
[To be continued]