Utilitarianism – What Nigeria Lost, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
The horror of living in a country so blessed yet so devastated can be explained by the lack of belief in utilitarianism. Nigeria is not breeding apostles of kindness and compassion in significant numbers. There are few torch bearers for the common good and there is little concern for human suffering. Nigeria has lost its way; its utilitarian roots. Utilitarianism, an extension of Epicurean philosophy grounded in the belief that an act is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of pleasure over pain and ensures the greatest good for the greatest number.
Nigeria and its citizens are in a hole today because its inhabitants are focused on empty and corrupting pride associated with possessions and the passion for more possessions. Cyril Bailey in his translation of Epicurus wrote “To him who little is not enough, nothing will be enough.” As a Nigerian, you cannot be selfless until your rational side curbs greed and modifies your actions and moods concerning possessions. When you lead a simple life, you will have more time and financial resources to avoid the impure pleasures of buying more than the essential items needed to live a comfortable, happy and fulfilling life. Thieving impulses, corruption, religious intolerance and other destructive pastimes are ingrained because Nigerians do not recognize the morality in developing the right perspective for enduring happiness. Fulfilment arising from utilitarianism has its foundations on the selflessness, right perspective, contemplation, physical conditioning, rationality, and community socialization. The usual question of “why are we like this?”, “How did we get here?” can be explained by the loss of the aforementioned factors. The ills are not only in leaders but also in the followers, after all, a people get the kind of leaders they deserve.
The pursuit of common good, most often places one’s self-interest in the background because the individual concern for well-being is measured by improvements in the ability to do good things. Selflessness is strictly a moral behaviour, concerned with the wellbeing of others and not with the well-being of oneself. Are Nigerians selfless? Ask the conniving brutes of Taraba. A state is held hostage by those benefitting from propping a brain-damaged governor in power for their selfish interests while they loot the state blind. Sadly, no one cares anymore.
The Right Perspective
Having the right perspective is key and certainly the most essential element for those who seek the greater good. At the heart of the right perspective is a commitment to promoting the greater good for family, community, country, and the world. A total lack of perspective is exemplified in the inordinate appetite for conspicuous consumption and primitive acquisition prompting the looting of Nigeria’s treasury by almost everyone. The focus of living with the right perspective is in making oneself far less important in promoting the common good. This can only be achieved by an acute sense of honesty, justice, lack of greed and self-sacrifice. Did you wonder why and how the N1.9billion budgeted to control Ebola was diverted into buying vehicles by the health minister? No one up there cares even when there is no need for vehicles. Ebola fund exists for Ebola in name only. It is another “Egunje” for the boys.
Deep reflection has great impact on how we view and engage the world. The cultivation of flexibility, empathy, awareness, intuition and morality is assisted by weighing options carefully to determine the greatest good for the greatest number. Contemplation leads to positive state of mind, which affects behaviour and helps in making better decisions. It is vital in taking effective actions that are key to successful learning and leadership because it grounds individual thought and action. That is why the deepest currents of our lives are most served by our humanity. The average Nigerian mind is lost to mediocrity, corruption, greed etc. Because of this, redressing the greatest social challenges of our time requires a re-examination of our behaviours, values and worldviews, with a view to tapping our inner sources of compassion, motivation, innovation, insight and vision. That is what is missing in the humans of Nigeria. It is the reason why a diplomat of Nigerian origin will hide his Ebola status, connive with a doctor who should know better and put his countrymen at risk. The traditions of our forefathers teaches contemplative wisdom as a tool for changing destructive behaviour and inimical patterns of thought. They showed us in their measured lifestyles, how contemplation unleashes creative energy and transforms the human mind for better actions and outcomes.
Fitness includes intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social fitness as well as physical fitness. After the civil war the nation’s economy changed dramatically, and with it the nature of work and recreation. Cheap money from oil proceeds took many farmers out of the fields and much of the physical labour out of people’s lives. The period marked Nigeria’s descent into sloth and corrupt lifestyles as evidenced in bulging waistlines and unhealthy lifestyles associated with gluttony and permissiveness. If you wonder what relationship physical conditioning has with common good, check out the service chiefs of the mid ’70’s in their active years and the potbellied generals of today who can only harass voters and become helpless when it comes to commanding troops. Nigeria is probably the only nation that elects leaders with unhealthy rap sheets. Since physical fitness is an important piece in the overall pursuit of happiness, physically unfit leaders are too preoccupied with what bothers them than the common good. That is how we got here!
A rational mind allows the intellect to select prudent behaviour. Rationality permits people to avoid the foolishness found in religion, it gives understanding to the nature of the universe and our place in it. Rationality frees the mind of common fears and promotes the understanding of scientific psychology. Unfortunately, religion has consumed the ability of Nigerians to be rational. To make it worse, Nigerian leaders are adroit at exploiting religious schisms to promote irrationality and subdue rational thinking and creative enquiry. In violating the basic tenets of humane behaviour, the leaders themselves can’t stop doing stupid things and the followers can’t stop being stupid. Whatever thinking ability there is, has been robbed into nothingness by religion. That is why Nigerians pray to God for roads instead of demanding that roads be built, they pray for electricity instead of asking government to generate power, they ask God to help execute human tasks while they strengthen their knees and atrophy their hands and brains. It is uniquely Nigerian to abandon rational guidance in preference for pitfalls. That is why we are like this!
The human being as infants are born without any culture. They get transformed by their parents, teachers, and the prevailing circumstances in their environment and they become cultural and socially adept at it. The socialization processes sets the stage for learning and language acquisition of the culture we are born into and the roles we play in adult life. Gender specific socialization is how girls learn to be daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. It is how we learn occupational roles and groom liars, thieves, looters and psychopaths in progression. Through socialization, we adopt cultural norms; that is why our youth have perfected the 419 culture we taught them. That is why no one heeds the message of hard work because we did not walk the talk when they were growing up. It is the classic case of “monkey see, monkey do”. They followed our footsteps and got better than their masters. The socialization process is an important part of personality formation. While a lot rides on our genes, the process can mould behaviour in particular directions by encouraging specific beliefs and attitudes as well as selectively providing experiences. That is why the encouragement of vice over virtue, indolence over work, turned Nigeria from a country that was the beacon for the black race in 1960 to a pariah state, mired in conflict, corruption, recklessness and a total lack of direction. It is the reason why the once peaceful Maiduguri became the hotbed of Islamic terror, all within a generation.
If one’s goal is to lead a happy and fulfilling life; self-interest is best served by rationality, productivity, integrity, a sense of justice and benevolence in dealings with others. It is served by learning to think long-range and to project the consequences of one’s actions, which means learning to live responsibly. Irresponsibility is never in anyone’s self-interest, neither is mindlessness, dishonesty and brutality associated with power for its own sake. The truth in these time tested facts is lost on Nigerian leaders. I hope it is not too late to learn the lessons. The greatest good for the greatest number is the philosophy you need for you to do your bit for Nigeria.
Bamidele maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times Editorial Board. Follow her at @olufunmilayo