THE SUBSISTENCE TRAP

Well… decades on, the hustle is real. Upon reflection, the reference to ‘a Neanderthal appreciation of food and shelter,’ was my own way of describing the lowest rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. With over 90 million Nigerians wallowing in systemic and multi-dimensional poverty, most Nigerians will never climb up that ladder to the point of higher echelons of ‘self-actualization.’ We have co-created a dystopian soul-draining country where mediocrity is king. So much so that even if our ruling political class have a change of mind and want to do something to reform and rebuild Nigeria, they cannot. Why? They simply do not have the thinking capacity to apply to solve our growing complex challenges. As Einstein famously said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” To solve the Nigerian problem will necessarily require ‘new thinking.’ Or as he is also reputed to have said ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Maybe Nigerians are insane…just saying! Enjoy

It is clear to me that the nation is on a qualified diet. Inarguably, while most Nigerians have been forced on a starvation diet that barely provides sustenance, a satiated minority has the privilege of eating what they want or not eating, periodically.
The latter predilection, clearly a nouveau riche-middle class syndrome, and ostensibly to keep bodyweight down and promote good health is in my reasoning an unconscious attempt at identifying with the dietary habits of the majority of Nigerians.
But more precisely to the point, I am tempted to echo the opinion of a distinguished Nigerian paediatrician as a possible explanation as to why the majority of Nigerians seem to lack, both individually and collectively, a sense of purposeful direction.
He states that the poor nutritional quality of traditional baby food stunts the development of brain cells at an early age, with the result that most Nigerians grow into adulthood with half-developed brains, and seriously impaired thinking capacities.
Looking at the state of Nigeria today, I am sorely tempted to agree with him all the way. However, I wish to address myself to only those fortunate to have escaped the consequences of cerebral malnutrition from an early age. And it is about the future of those tiny cerebral and creative islands surrounded by a tumultuous brackish sea of mediocrity that I am apprehensive about.
Although Nigerians certainly have more than enough to be worried about, it is a fact of life that problems adamantly remain in spite of our vexations. It is usually better to think about solutions instead of worrying about the problems per se. It is evident that Nigerians are being forced to think nowadays, but my quarrel is that we all seem to be thinking about the problems, leaving precious little space for anything else.
No doubt, solutions sometimes emerge as a by-product of our contemplations, but largely, in the main, all our efforts and individual resources are channelled towards ‘staying alive.’
Sociologists and behavioural scientists will readily identify and classify that cast-iron survivalist circle that has ringed every Nigerian, and historians will readily remind us that mass disenchantment with the values of any society usually precedes that collapse of that system. It is true also that the Renaissance came after the Dark Ages of medieval Europe.
But in spite of whatever promises time and history might hold for us in future, for today, in my own thinking, we are all in a trap — a subsistence trap.
I hereafter refer selectively to the archipelago mentioned earlier and the imminent threat of submersion it faces. The economic recession has unwittingly made existentialists of some of us; for many others, it has hardened the philistine in them. The anti-intellectual breeze that has been blowing across the country for many years now has become a windstorm that has blown the roof off many ivory towers, exposing the occupants to the ravages of the elements. Now, succour lies not in the way of creative reasoning, but creative hustling.
Many otherwise creative and imaginative minds now rely on sheer instincts for survival. Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and artists all seem to have, in recent times, developed a monumental ‘writer’s block’. While the manifestations of this intellectual freeze is a rehash of literature employing jaded themes and style, portraits for the nouveau-riche, commercial ‘tourist’ cravings, and music aimed at the ‘top-ten charts,’ the catalyst of this stagnation is of physical origin.
It is understandably difficult to sit and write an epic play when your landlord has served a notice of eviction for non-payment of rent for seven months; or paint a surrealistic masterpiece, or carve an erotic interpretation of the Olympics in ebony, when you have not eaten since the day before. And even more problematic is the answer to the question: who will buy works or talents? Aesthetic expression and appreciation have long given way to a Neanderthal appreciation of food and shelter.
Many intelligent people now focus on what can be described as a protozoic response to living, i.e. nutrition, respiration, reproduction and excretion (though not necessarily in that order).

The other cerebral stimulants that come with creative and literary endeavours now have to be translated fiscally before they are meaningful.
As a friend of mine is quick to say, “If it doesn’t bring me money, I’m not interested.” That might very well be our national philosophy. And to rise above and operate beyond this materialistic dictum would require an inordinate degree of individual renouncements, a degree, which I fear
Renowned and brilliant playwright, Wole Soyinka, in a fifty-year reflection of himself and his generation, described the shattered nationalistic aspirations and efforts of those who peaked intellectually in the early-independence years as “wasted” … he was absolutely right.
Our generation, the succeeding one, unfortunately, has the congenial purposelessness and lack of patriotism he identified so brilliantly. We are the ‘wasting generation,’ trapped in the iron jaws of subsistence.
The Punch,
Thursday, August 23, 1984

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