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CHAPTER THREE: THE SOCIAL PILL

This chapter is meant to be the crystallising theme of this whole book. Drawing on
very accomplished writers such as Charles Handy on ‘The Hungry Spirit’, Richard
Wilkinson and Kate Pickett on ‘The Spirit Level’, Richard Layard on ‘Happiness’,
Francis Fukuyama on ‘Trust’, David C. Korten on ‘The Great Turning’, and many
more.
Society will change, but it is currently happening so rapidly to be overlooked. Luckily
in these modern times, we posses the tools to be able to look closer, far in time and to
reflect on our fears or hopefulness.
How many of us have not had to listen to people probably much older than us,
immerse us in conservation about a time past? We all have memorable times past
whether good or bad, engaging or boring. Each of us usually has a story that we tend
to tell in a chest thumbing fashion. These are instances that we try to carry forward
our personal views of generational and socio-cultural past of societies through stories.
It is therefore the comparing of times past and the present that we know how far we
have come, good or bad.
Very crucially for a developing country like ours and in entire Africa, it is even an
opportunity to reflect harder and to build a brand we crave, a competitive advantage
that is struggling to be and all the good tidings of a well and a meaningfully structured
society will become the dream that never was. It is still only a conceptual essence, but
I can imagine a happier and contented society that all other people will want to
experience or share is possible. It is however easy to want to give-up sometimes on
some ideals as never really attainable. For instance, is it common, hearing the phrase,
“life is not fair” Yes, a lot of times, life does not seem fair, true. But if we were to
dwell on it and to take solace in that, we will never attempt to explore for a better and
equitable life for all.

A Journey through Life

Even in primary school we will spend hours grappling with the euphemism; do we
live to eat or eat to live? What ever the answer is does not change the fact that as we
go through life our biggest dilemma is the essence of life. And perhaps, life’s biggest
secret is to keep us guessing. I don’t think anyone will ever come up with a
universally acceptable essence of life. Religion has sought to answer these questions
of the ‘essence of life’, but recently the atheist are spreading wide and strong, offering
stiff rebuttal of the religious view. What ever it is we can only find out in our own
lives. The kind of life we live and believe in.
In any case it cannot be denied that humans are social beings and derive our essence
of life from our relationship with the world we live in. From where we derive our
inspiration and desire to live as long as possible, our relationship with others certainly
plays a primary role, but our relationship with the material world is even more
characterising. We will therefore continue to look for answers to enrich our lives.
The two letter phrase, “common good” is dominating the media again. But it has been
in the socio-economic lexicon as far back, even beyond classical times. ‘The common
good’ phrase is resurrected and is one of the commonest phrases to hear or read this
days. This is so because from all fronts, it does seem the dream of humans is looking
increasingly blurred. The climate change scare; the widening gap of inequality and
hopelessness; the ever elusive contentment in life, which, even many rich people in
the most successful of economies, cannot boast about.

IN THE BEGINNING

Earlier thinking sought the deeper understanding of human behaviour; this culminated
into the key assumptions that rule our spheres of life today. When the classical and
neoclassical economists and philosophers thought hard and wide for a rule governing
humans, all considerations may have appeared exhausted. The main assumptions that
brought us this far are therefore grounded in various socio-economic theories. But
being humans, I don’t believe these are cast in concrete not to be tempered with. The
socio-economic assumptions of old have however, captivated our consciousness to a
point of no question. When Albert Einstein questioned: Did God have any other
choice? He was mindful of the established laws of physics, but he thought an
inquisition was still necessary (…………). These are the sort of questions we should
be asking today. Is there any other direction other than the one we have always been
lectured on?
It should not be accidental to say that had the world moved on with the classical
thinking, perhaps the world would have been a different experience than it is today,
bad or good. The distinct and probable influence of the classical assumption which
put emphasis on human virtue and sought a relationship of virtue and individual
freedom could have its own effects on our lives. The neoclassical view point,
pioneered by people like: Ricardo;Malthus; Carlyle; Mill and others who took a
narrower turn, emphasised self-interest, have indeed changed our fortunes as citizens
of the world, we know now. Let’s not forget that the battle of the professions then
could have had a greater influence too. G. R. Steele in his Understanding Economic
Man observed that, physical science backed and précised by mathematical
formulations gained all the credibility then. This set a standard in the professions then.
For the science of human nature, known then, but now known as economics tended
therefore to rival the physical sciences. But the incorporation of mathematical
assumptions into the science of human nature is but limiting.
The neoclassical economists with the new formidable tool in mathematics could not
relent on reducing all human behaviour into mere formulae. We have realised great
strides, but we also have to be weary. Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) the skilled
mathematician, saw a wisdom to advice against the over reliance on mathematics in
the science of human nature and productivity (economics). In his own notation, he
recommended the following to economists:

(1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of inquiry.


(2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by
examples that are important in real life.(5) Burn the mathematics.(6) If you can’t
succeed in (4), burn (3). This last I did often. (Marshall; cited in Pigou 1925b, pp
427-428).

What was Marshall trying to put across?


We cannot down play the usefulness of mathematical models to reveal or clarify some
economic inconsistencies and effects. It is a useful start point but the caution is not to
be carried away. So by the formalities of mathematical assumptions we are able to
clarify where we are; where we want to be; how we will get there. But the huge
problem lies in the fact that mathematical models alone cannot adequately capture
how people will behave in certain conditions like in the physical sciences. There
cannot therefore be a fathomable parameter of human behaviour for elegant formulae.
The world of institutionalised economics though flexible, is hugely beset by its
underlying neoclassical assumption and particularly does seem not favourable to the
interest of Africans at our peculiar stage of development in very strong countervailing
global economic forces. For us Africans, our heads are deeply buried in these theories
searching for solutions for our problem. The irony is, the solutions we seek are not
adequately covered in the models we rely on. For example one of our fundamental
problem is our governments do not understand, and do not empathise with the
citizenry to be able to implement effective policies.

The neoclass’s attempt to put a human face to a largely mathematical model has done
that with a seemingly robotic description of the typical human. The model assumes
human, an economic agent, as one whose choices are independent. That is to mean we
live in isolation of each other. That cannot be right.
The neoclass also threat human rationality as a given. For example, the…….. But in
the evolutionary context, human rationality could mean something else. For instance,
my biological or evolutionary rationality urges me to have multiple partners or even
to fall on the recreational drug that invigorates me. But the socio-economic rationality
of today is to consider cost, nothing but cost. Which ever urge wins my soul will
depend on which urge, subjectively is stronger. Yet again consider typical African
village, where knowledge of economic well being is basic; land and labour. Here the
justifiable evolutionary urge is procreation as much as possible. The need for farm
hands, the insurance against high child mortality all points to a rationality that may
not stand the neoclassical view.
The neoclassical view does not risk ethics, but individual choice predominates. The
utilitarian concept in particular reduces human behaviour to largely a price influenced
factor. The factor price and other material considerations predominates the thinking
ahead of others.
The battle of the philosophy of life as to determine human economic predisposition
and fulfilment had another angle. This other angle comes from those saw economic
fulfilment as beyond merely the neoclassical and the utilitarian precepts. The earliest
of this view dates back to the Aristotelian principle of motivation, which Rawl
believes conveys meaning as follows:

(1) Enjoyment and pleasure are not always by any means the result of returning to a
healthy or normal state or of making up deficiencies; rather many kinds of pleasure
and enjoyment arise when we exercise our faculties; and (2) that the exercise of our
natural powers is a leading human good. Further more (3) the idea that the more
enjoyable activities and the more desirable pleasures arise in connection with the
exercise of greater abilities involving more complex discriminations is not only
compatible with Aristotle’s conception of the natural order, but something like it
usually fits the judgements of value he makes, even when it does not express his
reasons (Rawls 1972, p. 42, fn.)

The principle underlines what we will call the common good principle today. The
essence of national values and how it constrains our individual socio-economic
behaviour.
Any attempt to try to justify the essence of life can be conveniently done in the
religious context, albeit that will always attract an interpretation as dogmatic and the
counter justification will be endless. It will be fruitful to attempt this controversy
rather from the fundamental aspirational human need view point.
From the historical perspective, our lives have been immensely influenced and shaped
by what some other people have institutionalised. For example, from the utilitarian
economic concept of old under the influence of the neoclassical assumptions currently
dictate what we can describe as our economic predisposition and well being.
Particularly some of the utilitarian premises that have captivated our drive and
motivational predisposition is the idea of pain or pleasure. This is a “Pareto optimum”
concept. We have a zero sum view of life. That is to say for every loss somewhere
there is a corresponding gain. If you want to rule, you must subdue others to gain the
upper hand; if you have to control their resources, they should be kept at bay from
gaining expertise. We have seen this played in ideologies of the past. Unfortunately,
Africans continue to hang on unconsciously to this tenets of “Pareto optimum” rule,
even in our search for modern economic well being. If we get the opportunity to
amass wealth to make our tribe, clan and family economically ever dominant, we
have a justification not to see a flaw. To be the only light in a community is a virtue
we uphold with pride. We continually fail to see beyond the self. We have learned a
great deal from our colonial masters, but the concept of relative well being other than
the absolute is what we remember most. All these values have been bequeathed to us
through the assumptions of the world and its underlining economic forces.
The various view points of some ethereal value needs versus materialistic needs is
often paradoxically riddled in our local parlances:

You will occasionally be ask, “if your mum and wife were to be drowning and you
had but only a chance to save one of them, which of them will you save?” Normally
people will have a subjective affection for each, which will influence the decision. But
the question assumes the deepest relationship possible with each of them and to
decide upon an objective reflection.
If you were to say, “I will save my mum,” it can be interpreted as a predisposition for
the ethereal value, because you stand to gain nothing from saving your mum except to
establish your intrinsic connection to your mum as the basis of your existence.
On the other hand if you choose to save your wife, it can also be interpreted as a
predisposition for a worldly essence, because apart from the justification that your
wife will bore you copies of yourself, she will also provide you outlet for some
emotional expression.
The essence of a riddle of this sort, test of our deepest lying value. Do we have a kind
of normative value or a worldly essence?
This also means that it is possible to have a deeper value which can spontaneously
rule our behaviours and decisions, whether for a wider social good or for a narrower
and parochial self-interest.

How many of us adults are not disappointed with the stressful adulthood and all the
forced responsibilities to contend with? Thinking of it, we were probably the same
people who when children, could not wait to whisk away our freedom from our overly
concerned parent’s watchful eyes. How many of us are already not anymore excited
about our dream houses just after a few years of moving into them? How many of us
are not already looking at a neighbour’s new car covetously, having had our own
dream car not too long ago? How many of us are not thinking of acquiring the latest
phone, even though our current phone can still meet all our communication needs?
How much newly acquired home furniture has not ceased to excite us anymore?
The issues around these questions above are what Richard Layard calls ‘habituation.’
Habituation is the condition where we are no more excited about something that use
to excite us due to familiarity. The economists interpret this as the “human wants that
are never satisfied.” I consider this as an assumption imputed onto our psyche. We
find ourselves in a trap of consumerism, exacerbated by greed and manipulation
through countless commercials. As we believe that our wants are never satisfied, we
go on and on chasing the proverbial wind that will never be caught. As humans, as I
repeatedly said, our greatest gift is our mental ability. If we fail to temper the
economists’ assumption of insatiable wants, which appears a lump in our minds, we
will forever feel as though something is missing and inadequate as human beings.
We live in a world that we are programmed continually to want new things; we will
buy as much as the adverts in the media tell us. We feel inadequate if we are not in
vogue. How far can we go with this? If economic well being is the endless acquisition
of things we probably do not need, then it is a self defeating goal.
This is what we need to deal with in our arduous search for a meaningful life. To
capture Charles Handy’s take on what he conceptualised as ‘enough,’ he said, “You
cannot move onto a different tract, unless you know you have gone far ‘enough’ in the
present one.” This explains that we cannot ever be able to self-actualise, if we don’t
know where to stop, or that we have acquired ‘enough’ already. Be it material or
achievement.
For us in the developing world, we may have a lot of genuine needs, but our
unquestionable pursuit of a Western style of measure of value can be a mark of
foolishness, because the most stringent of Western economies (Britain and USA) are
not currently happy with their own state of affairs. And we more than any group,
though economically far behind, have the benefit of hindsight. Ghanaians have been
tracking economic growth and riches for so long as it is taking. It cannot be a bad idea
to chase economic growth; neither will it be to want riches. But riches and economic
growth per se are not going to make us anymore content. What will make us content
is how we are able to re-discover ourselves from a world of meaningless void.
Competition, it is often said brings about efficiency, growth and what have you, more
jobs. Competition is a necessary benchmarking tool that makes economic agents work
harder but unfortunately ruthless most times. The result is also possibly a huge
inequality in society if not properly managed. Winners are handsomely rewarded but
losers are punished unashamedly. How do we bridge this paradox then? This is what a
responsible governing system should be solving amidst the quest for growth.
The bigger question though, is how do we create an ideal society? A society that is
more equal. A society that fashions a more fulfilling life for its citizens. A society that
other people would not only talk about but want to experience.
As a nation, if we are able to formulate a national character grounded in a more
economically equal society driven by a positive value system, we are perhaps going to
have a durable state brand that would last several generations. Looking at the
problems and the wave of requisite virtues demanded by most people around the
world, it is not too far fetched to think along these lines.
………write about the USA, UK, JAPAN, UN and other examples that prove the
need for a kind of society for the future.
The exigency for this move comes from the fact that as a nation, we are at the most
advantageous moment of our political and economic development to incorporate the
best model of development whether revolutionary or learned. We may currently be
taking the right approaches to achieve this future goal, but it is easy sometimes to
loose touch with the bigger picture without a guiding philosophy for an agenda like
this. We may evolve our own ideology and philosophy guiding all citizens by clear
principles by having a kind of dream/light to loot up to in the horizon.
I have seen how a seen can easily loose focus recently. Let’s look at how the British
political system recently lost track of issues. It was in the peak of the financial turmoil
in May 2009 when the debate about executive pay and bonuses was a subject of
heated debate and scrutiny. The financial crises set the opportune tone for the passage
of the British freedom of information Act which, had been voted down by MPs
before. This time round when the MPs have led the campaign against the huge
executive bonuses, how could they turn round to oppose the scrutiny of their own
activities? The bill was passed and not long the media were filled with the wave of
embarrassing MPs expenditures. This was a hard hit to the MPs who were earlier
pontificating on top business executives and their insensitivity to the plight of
ordinary people. However, they MPs had abused their allowances to a tune that can
only be noted as dishonest. Several of these MPs, some party top brass and cabinet
members made double claims and frivolous expenditures.
While they tried to explain what actually happened, it appeared mostly like poor
judgement on the part of these MPs milking a vulnerable system of MP allowances.
These are people entrusted to be the keepers of all the virtues of a model subject in
Britain. This incident is a classical example of how sometimes even systems and
honourable people can be overtaken by other issues and even drift away easily with
unsuspecting conventional forces. The question is why did it happen?
My take is, it happened because there seem to have been a wave of high earning at all
levels in the then booming British economy. Footballers, their wives and girl friends
(WAGS), generally the arts and even individuals who are able to use the boisterous
media to their money making advantage, had no limits. MPs too were caught-up in
this wave. They may not have demanded parity, but would have been making double
claims to keep up. After all, these upper tiers meet at same functions all the time, and
can be infected. Being infected, they would have been carried away and made poor
judgements, cunningly in the process to milk the suffering public. This incident
brought about a huge political embarrassment of revolutionary proportions to the
British political system. The incident elicited a massive call for a shake up of their
several decades old Parliamentary system. And a face saving political PR has never
been on its utmost wits.

The Danger of Authority

The world dictum made up of various power influences at all levels ranging from
international to ‘village champions’ all play a role in how we enjoy our lives. This
kind of pyramidal hierarchy of old are base on assumptions which, tend to tether us
all into conformity. Whether it came about as a deliberate or accidental calculation
is still a subject of interest. That said, the contemporary behaviour of leadership as
we have known tended to seem more like a deliberate formulation. Consider that
people naturally revel in the power they wield in leadership and their dominance to
others. We cannot therefore assume that human leadership is wholly for our good
other than other motivations. Even when people genuinely appear motivated to
serve an altruistic purpose, they still need to amass some motivational energy to be
able to serve well. This motivational energy could be anything other than altruistic.
We usually question people vying for leadership positions; what motivates them and
the most common answer usually is: A desire to serve. They almost always omit an
answer like; to have a good feel within oneself. This is a genuine answer to give but
humans will elusively try to underscore their own reward. Why so? So because we
know society will not do with self centred persons.
Today world emphasises leadership from the front. This kind of leadership is touted
all over the place, in our schools, churches, and media. It plays insidiously on our
conscious about what should be ideal. Today you cannot prepare a CV without
indicating some leadership quality even if you are lying. It is so because don’t
expect to get employed without the dictum of what the world assumes to be worthy,
even if not. How many of us can unashamedly claim we are introverts? With this
accolade, someone will almost always have to be referred to as an introvert and not
the other way round. But when it comes to extroverts, they almost always refer to
themselves proudly as extroverts. The world order tells us what we cannot be. We
are given a checklist of qualities that counts and do not count, without
consideration for variety. Who is the world? The world is essentially the powerful
economic blocks that dictates the world order. Reading an authoritative piece in the
UK recently, I saw a list of top 100 personalities of the last century. With the
exception of Nelson Mandela from Africa, the list was dominated by Western
greats. This was a purported list for the world. Meanwhile I believe a lot of people
in Africa will have serious reservations about that list, though we may not be in the
position to influence it. Suppose this list is brandished around enough to gain
currency and imprinted into our indelible minds, it would have become world view
documentation, irrespective. The whole point is, there is a kind of world order out
there that is driven by a minority interest in a self perpetuating order, where ever.
Recently, the multiple intelligences concept of Howard Gardiner tells us individuals
have different qualities that can be ranked on the same level. Say you are gifted
with the emotional talent and someone gifted with athletism, we should not be
judgemental about the differences. So in our world today we could have people
leading in various capacities not necessarily from the front.
The recent power wrangling in the NDC between Ekow Spio Gabrah and Atta
Mills, the President of Ghana is an example of why the drive for leadership
positions does not transcend the personal interest. There is therefore a danger in
counting on a world dictum that has not got humanity at the heart but a disguised
order for a dominant few.
A Dream Future

How do we arrive at that seemingly unattainable virtuous economy for all? It is


possibly too easy dreaming up these ideals, but it is certainly too dangerous not to
inquire. I see it more as a futuristic strategic positioning to create a kind of society in
an economic system that is an envy of the surrounding world.
While listening to Joy FM morning show, 2nd November 2009, an interesting dilemma
of Ghana’s economic woes were revealed. One Edgar argued on the premised that
politicians cannot be trusted, quoting Charles de Gore, the ……. He made very
laudable argument why this was so. But when put in the corner, a dilemma was
evident: Kojo, the host asked Edgar, do you think politicians are not delivering
because of misappropriation of funds or because of economic constrains? Edgar went
on to say, it’s either because of acting in self-interest or incompetence on the part of
political leadership. At this point it is important to distinguish between acting in self
interest and misappropriation of funds. Acting in self interest could mean acting in a
way not necessarily inappropriate but cannot be said to be completely objective.
Misappropriation on the other hand is perhaps straight a forward description, as a
misuse of public funds. The Honourable Acheampong, MP of Mpreaso agreed to
some extent with Edgar but differed significantly on grounds that economic constrains
is the biggest of problems that generally beset politicians in Ghana.
When an independent opinion from a prominent listener, whose name I am not sure
about, was sought, the listener agreed on balance about all sides of the argument. But
went on to emphasise the role of civil society. She thinks a vibrant civil society can
actually feel the gap where politicians are not able. She gave examples of how civil
society did prevail to engender the public interest in the past. She cited Joy FM and
the SSNT saga; Gold FM and the National Communication Regulatory Board and
many more who have questioned and tested officialdom and in the process set the
agenda for the public good. It is however, evident that all three observations though
laudable, were largely factionalised. So in summary, the three view points; political
self interest; incompetence; economic constrains; and weak civil society though well
identified cannot be dealt with in isolation. A national vision can be seen as the
missing link here. But even then, where do we begin? Do we have to wait on the egg
or treat the hen as the real deal? It is the biggest national paradox of our search for an
equitable economic development.

Even the shrewd but modest stock market investor, Warren Buffet, worth about $40b
thinks he is lucky to be wired in such a way that fitted the American system and says
the American society made him what he is today. He compares that there are a lot of
discrete rich Americans who have made it because society supported them and
probably the same people wouldn’t have made it if they were born elsewhere in the
world. He humbles, that it is not about being the most intelligent or wiser but also
good to recognise how lucky one has been.
In the community where I was brought up, too many of my colleague’s experience of
education is failure. Extrapolate this kind of situation country wide and it is a huge
shame. However, from the outset, education is meant to be a worthwhile lasting
experience to all participants. But most of these people who fell by the way side will
look back on this experience with nostalgia. If you leave school with bruise self-
esteem and disappointment, it can never be a good start in life by any standard. Even
those of us who have a modest educational achievement, still feel some emptiness
sometimes. In the book of Revelation in the Bible, there is a ‘white stone.’ It reads,
“To the one who prevails, the spirit says, ‘I will give a white stone on which is written
a name, which shall be known only to the one who receives it.’” This wise crack
sought to tell us that though we may go through several challenges in life; these
challenges actually reveal who we truly are at the end, if we ever prevail.

Even in the pile of the rejected, we can still find gold. We are too quick to promote
the few top geniuses and delight in throwing the rest into the gutter. That is purely a
materialistic behaviour. Recently I had a chat with a former national Miss Ghana
contestant who had spent resources and time to try her luck in the contest. I got the
impression from the disillusioned reject that, after two weeks of arduous grooming
and photo shooting session under camping conditions, all 16 or more out of 20 had to
go home without anything to compensate their pain and concern. This is against the
back drop that, organizations may have made hefty sums of profit out of the willing
gathering and combined appeal of all 20 contestants. The tendency to reward just a
few is draws on the world order of ‘the winner takes all’ philosophy.
Running short of the supple rolls of paper, I had no issues turning to my pile of
rejected old news folds. I pulled a centre page, hoping it had less print on. In a relaxed
mood and observing karma, I decided to educate myself a bit on the prints I was about
to render forever unusable. While I read on, it became difficult to keep my eyes off
the next words as the piece was engaging. I decided it was worthy for keeps, and
therefore decided to keep a portion of this skimpy page for later reference. I wonder
how many people have not had this kind of experience before. So, in the pile of the
rejected we can still find gold.

There is so much that defines a national character. The national character is not
something that a finger can be put on. It is usually ethereal. If you go to a country for
the first time and have no idea how life will be played out, try listening and watching
the national media in that country. If you walk into an organisation for the first time
and you are discerning, you probably will not need more than an hour to be able to
describe the culture in that organisation.
You may fault Ghanaians for always claiming to be hospitable. For me as a Ghanaian
myself, that assertion is arguable. It took only one honest friend, a foreigner, to tell
me sincerely in the face, “You treat your own people worse,” to confirm what I had
always doubted myself. The English, are extremely professional and courteous as a
people, you cannot fault them on that. They are classy too. On the other continent,
America, through their screens portrays a heroic and kind of proud statesman/woman
character. This ethereal values are usually also portrayed through the arts, in the
media.
If we were to go by screens alone, in Ghana, our screens at present give me an
impression we are in for a gloomy future. It is all about the love affairs we already
know. Not just pure love plots, but more of illicit love intricacies. This is what we
feed the minds of our children with. It is as if we have nothing doing in this country
other than engaging in illicit romances. Well, if we are serious about moving forward,
we may have to limit stuffing the conscious of our people with those sentimental and
ever unrealistic vanishing spiritual delusions too.
The more scenes of well thought out arm robbery plots; the more scenes of infidelity;
the more scenes of bribery and corruption, all goes not only to send the signal that not
only is it a common feature of our society but also the way to execute this such well
thought out plots. The problem is our high illiteracy and the chronic unemployment
rate presents a ready spark to flame. When illicit scenes roll out like this, after a
while, they assume a commonality as to become an acceptable predicament in
people’s conscience. Desperate and vulnerable people are more predisposed to fall for
these options played out in replicable terms to the public.
I wondered too, why other African artists have chucked successes with the critical
global audience and not Ghanaian artists. But when I started analysing the reasons
more closely, I realised The Ghanaian lyrical content is usually shallow, at best it is
all about rhythm and sexism.