Change and whatnot

Change is one of those things that is most valued in society. The basic constitution of man, and probably his instinctively survivalist psyche, may have something to do with what seems to be the innate impulse to seek the betterment of life and the improvement of conditions or circumstances. Of course, the different individuals that constitute society’s different sections desire different kinds of change and to differing degrees.

A great philosopher started with this line of thinking once and he ended with these conclusions:

There is logic in what people do in society; that is, there is logic beyond the mere facts that are the makings of history. This logic dictates that history is anything but the collection of haphazard occurrences, that there is indeed a direction in which society develops; there is a point where history starts and there is a point where history ends. History starts at the point where people start to become cognizant of their surroundings and start taking stock of their situation; for history to begin, the people need to have invented a systematic way of recording their accounts. In other words, history does not exist for the millions of societies that have no literary tradition, even if they may have traditions of oral history.

(The philosopher says Africa has no history because African societies had yet to develop writing methods. Considering the facts were quite to the contrary, it is still unnecessary to make any refutation. The man’s hint of racism is easily explained by the circumstances under which he lived; he must be excused for he lived in racist times.)

The endpoint of history is the main purpose of society, the main reason for its existence, its raison d’être. In simpler terms, the endpoint is the goal or objective of society. And this is determined by historical laws. Historical laws indicate a constant improvement in the productive capacities of society which in turn creates the possibility for a general improvement in living conditions for every member of society. In brief, social history, or history simply, is an immutable march of progress.

We are not going to contest those conclusions one way or another except for the one contestation already made; and we are not going to reveal the name of the philosopher. It is not necessary to acquaint the reader with the philosopher’s name and that is not necessarily because we despise the reader. Of course we despise the reader – how could it be otherwise? But that is not the point here; we have another reason.

The final words attributed to that philosopher as he lay in his deathbed were to the effect that even his brightest student failed to understand anything he had taught him. By the way, that bright student who his professor accused him of misunderstanding, ended up being misunderstood himself; in fact, he turned out to be the most misunderstood fellow in history.

In the early 1990’s, Francis Fukuyama, a bureaucrat in the American State Department with too much time on his hands, published a book with a title he could not have made any more eschatological - “The End of History and The Last Man”.

Francis Fukuyama explains, history marches towards a conclusion, but not necessarily in a progressive manner; as all major progress has been achieved at present (the 1990’s imagine), history has been concluded.

Parenthetically, this man was a remarkable idiot who was a danger only to himself; that is why it is safe to name him, whereas the aforementioned, those we left unnamed, possessed such formidable intellect that their ideas still have the power to inspire both admiration and terror centuries after the individuals were buried deep under the frozen ground; we avoided naming them because we did not want, at least on this occasion, to unsettle or unseat anyone. Having said that, even the most mediocre minds can inspire terror, and they often do, but today’s column is not about those guys with messianic complex - the carpenter’s son who hated his father as much as he hated carpentry and all other work so much so that he kept insisting he was born to another man – an out-of-town fellow while he made his living as a traveling salesman, or that merchant fellow who managed to prosper despite his illiteracy and innumeracy, a fact which proved to him and his friends that the divine indeed condescends to intervene in the affairs of nomads, and that he regulates their transactions.

In any case, history continues to exist because the disputes and contradictions which are its essence continue to exist. Now, this is not to suggest that historic contradictions be eliminated and that historic inconsistencies be forcefully ironed out; we have learned, in a painful way we might add, to keep such suggestions to ourselves, well out of the sight of the good but not-so-discerning people. We must, therefore, restrict ourselves to oversimplified generalizations. Here goes.

Change is a sentiment common to all, change in status or social standing being the most visceral to most people. People want better things for themselves and their children. They want more things for themselves. Maybe those are not always better things, but they always desire more things for themselves and sometimes less things for others. (Things or provisions, we could use either.) Be that as it may, they want their children to lead better lives than the lives they themselves led. All of that is understandable. And in accordance to common practice, they seek to improve their children’s lot by educating them and preparing them for the future. They do their best to bring them up the right way, so on and so forth.

Even if it is never a guarantee, a good education goes a long way in opening the windows of opportunity for a child. That lack of guarantee is what we need to address. The simple fact is, people these days rarely qualify for jobs on the basis of their education or training; they qualify for jobs on the basis of the people they know, the people with whom they are drinking buddies, or the people with whom they are related, not to mention their tribe and ethnic group, or some other political consideration. Who would dare controvert this? In Ethiopia as in most African countries, excepting the technical fields which necessarily demand some proficiency, most positions are filled with less regard for abilities than personal relations.

For instance, Ethiopia’s top diplomat, that is, the minister for Foreign Affairs, has nothing to recommend him for that position. It is a political appointment and I understand that fully. And he does not seem to be doing too bad a job of keeping that office, however, I fail to see the logic in making a top diplomat out of a healthcare professional who never held a diplomatic post a day in his life. The man is qualified for something else. This is just one example, but the trend is becoming terrifying. And it is not just Ethiopia; other countries, especially those on the African continent, are the same way. And they wonder why they have too many problems!

If we were to make demands upon their abilities, more than half of our current officials will be out of office; (By our, I mean to include other countries as well us Ethiopia.) In fact, with no set of useful skills, these people would have starved to death in the state of nature; natural selection would have weeded them out long ago, but they have others to work for them, so they survive. Would the often-quiet-sometimes-braying donkeys in most African legislatures have any purpose in the state of nature? Can they produce anything worthwhile? If the system under which they operate actually called forth only those individuals with ability, those legislative houses would have been emptied long ago.

Even the House of Commons, everyone’s favorite reality show from the United Kingdom, does nothing but dole out what it continually pilfers from the working people, without taking any part in producing any wealth. The heavily-taxed population of Britain produces the wealth that goes to feed members of parliament, the queen, her heirs, and more importantly, her dogs. Her dogs are better treated than the average Briton, I come to think of it.

Such an idle group of people with no productive talent run nations and live on largesse extracted from those who create wealth for society. And tampering with these peoples’ privileges in any way always makes them pugilistic. Because peace is what they enjoy the most, they always avoid taking chances, hence their emphasis on personal relations when making appointments or making job offers.

Less change, change as is commonly understood, is better for them. However, even they seek change in the ways they can make more out of nothing; they want, for example, continuous improvement in the methods of taxation so that they can extract more pennies from the people and buy more ponies for their phonies. Change that and everything changes.