Friday, February 15, 2013
Intelligence intelligence everywhere but who can stop to think?
A young man here in Ghana is expanding his knowledge of the world by asking questions. He came from a village in the north and much of what he believes is so indelible it is difficult to shift. He believes that female circumcision keeps women from being promiscuous “and many women ask for it’. When I ask him whether it should be the case that any man who has a woman circumcised should also be circumcised, he doubles up in laughter. What kind of world is that? He believes that it is impossible to not believe in God and finds my extreme agnosticism part of a stand-up comic routine. He believes that the sun goes round the earth and, on occasion, the moon swallows the sun. He thinks that the moon is small. The idea of a moon landing has never made itself part of his consciousness. He believes he cannot bring me bad news and so won’t tell me when things might be going wrong in the business. He lies, in western terms, when he says he is not smoking to an older woman who is working alongside him and finds the odour reprehensible. Three times. Biblically. Later I ask him why and he says it is wrong to inform his ‘mother’ of such things. He was brought up to treat all older women as his mother and all older men as his father. He has been taught by the Company to use the internet, Photoshop and Word though he has only been speaking and writing in English for five years. He is the best photographer we have ever encountered. He has an eye for how to bring out the essential nature of textiles. At the same time he has no sense of how the internet works and connects people or that there are satellites in the sky or that people have unique postal addresses.
Being from a village and uneducated, his existence was different before he came to Accra seeking a better life. It was opportunistic. A matter of survival. Very little was planned. It was a matter of reacting to what was thrown at you. Only the imperatives of sowing and reaping and husbandry necessitated planning. So, with his very clever mind, he does work of a very high standard – but he cannot plan it yet. His approach to problem solving is as opportunistic as when he was in his village. Scattergun. Trial and error. No methodical steps. He is learning chess to try to lay down a sense of strategy in his mental processing, the moves that might make the future better for him – and the Company.
Sometimes he is so certain that he is right that he cannot hear you ask him to do something at odds with his world view. He is the product of a lack of educational provision and an evangelical Christianity that does not encourage critical thinking. Jesus has supplanted the old Gods and provides an answer to everything. Just pray.
We have thirty plus ‘blue collar’ workers. We pay them three times the national basic wage for the work they do. We bring in free literacy and numeracy and IT. We train them. They work according to western notions of a seven hour day and a five day week. They are all bright and intriguing individuals making their way in a new culture, far removed from their upbringing. The demands are often alien to them. They cannot see what is going on, what is behind what they are being asked to do. The peoples from developed countries are born into something that they are not.
To run a company along western lines in Ghana requires a very sophisticated sense of cultural dissonance and a realisation that sheer intelligence, which is everywhere here, is compromised by early conditioning in worlds so far removed from what a foreigner might assume to be the case. The logics that underpin the way that people from developed countries behave are not the logics of the traditions of village and tribal life. Ghana’s GNP is among the highest in the world. What will it spend its oil money on? Health and education? Hardly. There is little middle class desire to change the lives of the poor. Ghana needs its own Marx. A velvet educational revolution.
It is saddening in the extreme.
The Magus travels among a hundred cultures and discovers cultural dissonance for himself! www.azimuthtrilogy.com