Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Character is destiny Part 2 ' The dream of cohesive communities'

Many years ago after the riots in the northern mill towns of England I wrote a piece for the Labour Market Review titled ' Summer of discontent'. It was a gripe at the simplification of the complex challenge of evolving a society in which the broad range of human possibilities is given the opportunity to evolve and prosper. Since then what has become abundantly clear to me that 'Western civilization' is currently incapable of rising to the organisational challenge of effectively adapting to the emerging complexity of the 21st Century. It is a prisoner of its manufacturing success and its technological breakthroughs which has created an inflexible as well as linear orientation. It is critical for all our futures that these limitations are addressed here in the West and that the rest of the world strive to evolve more appropriate alternatives. As usual ets explore the unique challenges that are being faced today. I see them in three phases: analytic capacity, intervention approaches, evolving solutions.

Analytic Capacity:

The most disconcerting aspect of western orientation is its ability to view the world exclusively through a self serving position that polarizes all things mostly into right or wrong, good or bad. It refuses to accept paradox and the inherent ambivalent contradictions that demand wisdom not just intellect. It seeks balance rather than accept the dynamic equilibrium of most things. A good example is the whole issue of terrorism as defined by the West. Here in the UK the Home Secretary in taking up the 'sword of truth' against mealy mouthed political correctness warns Muslim families of the responsibility to keep their children out of the claws of radicalising Imams. The traditional British disease strikes again i.e. BSE (Blame someone else). The government in all its efforts refuses to accept that these radical children are more a creation of the unique interaction of class, ethnicity and gender here in the UK. These boys mostly descendants of parents of Pakistani origin are showing the same pathologies that make their white mostly working and lower middle class counterparts turn Friday nights in every town center into a miniature orgy of violence, drunkenness and crime. The sense of dislocation which leads many similar boys of Jamaican descent to shoot and maim each other at the slightest sign of competition or disaffection. It is neither shocking or surprising that those of Pakistani descent will locate their pathology in the heady whiff of tribally adulterated Islam that provides some refuge from the disorientation and dislocation of the failure of modern Britain to live up to all propaganda of fairness, equality of opportunity and integration.

It has been the choice of the government and the media to confuse understanding with agreement and to use simplified stereotypes rather than meaningful or incisive analysis. As I pointed out in my original article the census categories are meaningless to define identity in any way that offers insight. Take the category Black African which lumps Somalis, Ghanaians and Zimbabweans into the same heading with no consideration for culture, migration patterns, economic mobility or even education attainment. It is this world a more urbanised and Politicised Muslim generation is emerging seeking identity that accords them respect, challenging the docility of their parents and expecting the fairness that they have been socialised to expect. The disillusion that results from societies inflexibility is ably reframed through the ability of 'new mentors' to show them pattern or history of disdain and disrespect that spans generation and centuries. These feelings are excercebated by callous party political choices and government policies that confirm that this disrespect is not just a personal slight it is a world view. In a world where individuals can effectively start wars these young men are responding to an apparently self serving choice. The only empathy they receive and understanding they share are from the very people they are warned about as dangerous, muderous, killers. Go figure, the governments of the west refuse to see these children as theirs even though they hold their National passports. They refuse to exercise power with mercy and address legitimate security questions with empathy or even take time to recognise their role and responsibility for co-creating the conflict. The truth is that these failure is not only because they are callous (which is partly true) but also because of the hubris in thinking 'west is best'. It is especially lazy to think that reason is only approach to human analysis worth any effort. At the very basic level reason is variable and contextual. Beyond that the disdain for emotional or spiritual faculty as irrational, reduces discourse and undermines any attempt at profound analysis of Western interaction with other cultures or civilsations. It is quite a failure in an interdependent 21st century .

Another aspect of the failure of analytic capacity is the refusal to accommodate scale of perspective. There is a long tradition in our land of blaming 'the other'. The riots of the 80's that burned most large British cities were laid at the doorstep of children of Caribbean immigrants and before that there were the Jews amongst many other immigrants whose failure to integrate would destroy these green and pleasant land. Is it remotely possible that the inflexibility is not the problem of any group but a systematic failure of society to redefine and adapt to the unique challenges that it faces as times move. Often immigrants are only symptoms of the failure to allow for the fact the constant evolution is not a reaction to the latest crisis but an essential, proactive choice for any successful sustaianble society. Evolution is a mixture of cooperation and competition but because the industrial thinking is either, or. The assumption is that resources as well as opportunities are scarce so automatically the government sides with the majority but suggestan after thought of tolerance for the minority. It never ceases to amaze me that Western governments in pursuing their national interests never stop to see that this signal of competition is asking others to sign up to a world order in which they will always be losers. If countries do not see themselves as inherently inferior it is inevitable that the clashes we see are part of their efforts to win sometimes militarily, culturally and economically.

Whilst on this issue of analytic capacity one other area of blindspot is the issue of character. The fullness of a person, organisation or societies character comes out when its back is to the wall. The amazing thing is that 11 September 2001 seem to have shown that most Western governments do not really believe in the very values they claim their opponents or enemies are trying to kill us for. From the norms of Public International law, the universal declaration of Human rights, democracy et al . Our governments have used our insecurity and the fear of dying to erode, values expand the state and undermine humanity. Killing with impunity at war and with haste at home.

So the universe holds a mirror to us in our enemies showing that we are all willing to kill as well as torture for our so called values, dehumanise the other side as the epitome of evil rather than be more nuanced. We all define our contest as a war of ultimate survival and we are fulfilling that prediction gradually.

Intervention Approaches

Our challenges in the 21st century are so fundamental that we should redefine all our relationships. To intervene successfully in any complex issue we need to be able to mobilise the problem solving capacity on all levels of society. So if we reframed our challenge on terrorism from a war to a quest. Our quest should be how do we frame dialogue with those who are hurt by our choices so that we can define areas of conflict more clearly and effectively? We should take time to model our dynamic within our different societies so we can fully see our patterns and how they play out before we test out processes that will then lead to evolving structures. We should entertain the possibility that all we know so far blinds us from seeing what we need to see in order to evolve. Recognise that inhumanity towards anyone no matter how reasoned in dehumanisation of all.So to intervene we need more reflection and understanding rather the confusion of activity with progress.

Evolving Solutions

Here in the UK the most socially segregated community is the Jewish one with all its unique amenities and provision for its people. It stands different but mostly because it is economically successful it is not seen as a threat even with its own militants in the past. On the other hand the ring of steel around the city of London designed to stop the IRA disproportionately led to 'Stop and Search' of more Afro caribbeans than any other group even though they are the most unlikely to be members of that group. In fact Afro Caribbeans are the most integrated of ethnic groups in British society if you use inter marriage but they are also mostly working class. We are at a unique cross road where government needs to become consciously incompetent. We need to allow dialogue to occur in local areas with facilitators from within to enable the true conflicts and cooperation to emerge. It is also critical that solutions be evolved within those spaces and innovative ones to be shared. Rather than trying to engineer from the centre allow the unique flow of interaction, initiative and innovation to reframe how people experience each other so that when the inevitable conflicts occur they have humanised each other enough to see it from a broader context and possibilities.

As`we get deeper into the world of complexeties that is the 21st century we need new thinking, habits as well as orientation. In fact we need to redefine the chracteristics of what and who we celebrate. Everything is in the direction of those who are committed to the progress from inside, out i.e. the importance of intangibles such as values, relations and connections as opposed to those addicted to materials, consumption and hegemony. You know in the end the mall will become a garish echo chamber all that will remain at best is the memories and only if they are valuable.


Sorry if you were not invited to this event. There was a limited amount of space and resources. In fact it was a pilot with three core elements:

1) The introduction to concept of Omoluwabi which can be distilled to three slogans for those who seek instant gratification

' Modernisation through africanisation'
'Character is destiny'
'Elevating the dynamic equilibrium between cooperation and competition'

Our excursion was a powerful presentation of facts, figures, images and sound.

2) Obalola, a play that I wrote to hold a mirror to Nigerian society, its addiction to power and authority especially possible ways to evolve its interaction

3) A fashion show that was a platform for Four powerful designers, Penelope Fish from Johannesburg, Ituen Basi lately of London, Olamide Ajayi the current flavour of Lagos whose debut still captures the daily newspapers and Omoluwabi Fashions my own efforts.

The review of this event held in Lagos on the 9th of September to come shortly. A heartfelt thanks to many people who made the event possible and powerful especially my colleague and co director in A3andO media Adewale Adeyinka, Egunla himself Oga Tunji Lardner, the truth Mr Kwabena Smith, the genius that is Sola Kuti (Switched On till u drop), Mzansi magic of Lelethu Lumkwana (unto Jozi) and resourcefulness of Hakeem Ajadi. So we are now out there with our co travellers, the 100 people who took time out to break Saturday rituals of Lie ins and strolls to participate. It is amazing they are out there.

We have open doors to many waves of possibilities in this battle of ideas. It is not going to be easy neither is it going to be celebrated but at least it will not be business as usual any more.