A thought-provoking article by Sunny Bindra reads; John Donne says, “No man is an island, entire of himself.” Why is this essential fact of life forgotten today? Here I see many who belong to the rich and elite classes imagining they are above the everyday struggles of common society, protected and cocooned from the things that afflict so many of us.
Certainly, our rich leaders have the money that makes hunger a distant memory and the motorcades that make awful public transport somebody else’s problem. They have armed guards to protect them from everyday insecurity. They can afford the schooling for their children that requires no public money, and healthcare for themselves in far-off lands that are not affected by counterfeit drugs and counterfeit doctors. So are they just dandy, these wealthy, protected, cloistered elites who live in gated worlds? Not at all. Here’s why.
Does rampant insecurity spare them? No. Violent crime is not something that just visits less-protected homes: it can explode anywhere at any time. Even if platoons of guards protect you, they may not protect people who matter to you. If your children, too, remain over-protected, they will not be able to live life fully in the world, or build any bond with it. And do you really think those underpaid armed guardians operating in a system of collapsed discipline won’t turn those same guns on you when the chance comes?
If society’s values are rotten, that is the society in which your children will be socialized and influenced. If it’s all ‘me-first’ in your world, your children will also become me-first and place you last someday. And if you try to helicopter them out of this place and take them to be educated in another place, good luck in keeping them far from their culture and roots.
When you fall sick, as you must, you may look at the dearth of great doctors and medical facilities, and use your wealth to seek treatment aboard. Again, good wishes to you if you need to recuperate for long periods away from the healing effect of those who care for you and understand you, on the soil that matters to you.
If you are a wealthy business owner spared the vicissitudes of everyday penny-pinching, you too cannot rest easy. Your business only prospers if its employees have ethics and its customers grow in their own lives. A society in which employees care nothing for their workplaces and customers strain under unbearable burdens of inflation and taxation is not one in which your fortunes will rise for long.
Also, there is a clique of the socially misplaced “middle class” who are constantly collecting debts, running away from the troubles of the society; these urban “sophisticated” twitter-obsessed, filters-driven, shisha-loving, the online-opinionated, brew bistro addicts. “You know the tragedy of the middle class is a lie that most of us belong to. That we matter. So we go to the desperate lengths to pull and maintain that image. We look for class neighborhoods to live in, even if the houses are on bedroom or studio apartments and we bleed money to keep up. We live from hand to mouth with inadequate savings in case of emergency.”- Dannish Odongo. This is the case across the world, even here in Ashesi.
More clearly, in Kenya, as Dannish explains, the middle class is a group of people within the social strata characterized with faking accents, bleaching, scrambling for events like golf and listening to the bourgeoisie radio stations like Capital FM- chasing vanity, all in a desperate bid to belong.
In Ashesi, we have a clique of students really struggling to keep up with societal standards. Mostly considered as a school of elites, there’s a very huge and resounding gap between the rich and the so- called financially disadvantaged students. But that is not the problem, the problem comes in when no one is willing to talk about it. When some of these “financially disadvantaged students” labor (mostly in vain) to act and identify with these elites. Yet, they have enough problems to confront. When we talk about identity, diversity and inclusivity, we want recognition, conscious recognition of the stratifications that have bedeviled student engagement and cohesion.
The capitalist nature of Ashesi affects every one of us. We have Big Ben, a student cafeteria, which rakes in huge profits and sucks the very life from every student’s stipend. How, for goodness sake, do you charge food so highly and yet neither ASC nor the school administration chips in to contain this monetary greed? Student activism is highly discouraged, since it tarnishes the “image” and you’re very ungrateful for the coveted experience you’re having in college. Look, this is insidious to the essence of admitting students if all they should do is thank, and thank, and thank you for meeting your qualification thresholds for admission. This does not mean that they should be oblivious of the troubles that afflict the society. Asking the ASC to take charge of student affairs instead of constantly dishing out barbeque and sausages, is not something that “foreigners” or “rebels” are fighting.
When ASC does not fulfill its mandate, it does not mean that only a clique of students feel misrepresented. NO. It means, to build a stronger community, a few of us need to step out of our comfort zones, and expunge the useless dogma that has thus clouded our judgements and our ability to see beyond the luxury that our money affords. For your voices to be heard, even when issues do not currently affect the rest of the student populace, this is the chance.
By the way, I am not advocating for continued socio-economic alienation, nor am I propagating acidic pessimism (as the cynics may quickly conclude). Rather, all I am saying is that we must be bold enough to unlearn the lies that have been pumped into our minds; that the way to solve a problem is pretending it does not exist, or elevating oneself to the economic pedestal they cannot afford. We must also calibrate our attitudes and be willing to learn from those who don’t necessarily share the same values we find to be interesting, and fancy.
I mean, all the troubles we (students, collectively) face in Ashesi (as has been the case in the recent blogs and emails), cannot be limited to a certain clique of students. They affect all and sundry, consciously or sub-consciously.
And so none of us can look away or feel privileged. Even those whose status relieves them of daily dangers and recurrent reversals will not be spared the consequences of societal degradation. As Donne went on to say, “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
This is a fight for all.
Donne’s bell is tolling in ASHESI, and whoever you are, it tolls for you too. You’re not an island either.
Muigai wa Muigai.