If nothing else, the just concluded elections have revealed who are. We revel in the fact-free, anything goes precinct. We abhor thoughtful introspection. Narrow self or ethnic interests tightly frame our prejudiced opinions. And yes, politics and public discourse is a zero sum game.
There are two other ways to characterize our society. We can be dreadfully and ominously silent. We can also be annoyingly loud, bellicose and irreverent. Kenyans are capable of deafening silence and hollow loudness especially when careful introspection is demanded. Is it the case that the path of logical and reasoned conversation is narrow path and not many of us find it?
Who is at the public square? Both TV and radio talk shows have dredged this land for the least edified, most unsophisticated talking heads. The universe of Twitter and Facebook is virulent detachment of narrow tribal zealots and bigoted lynch mobs. Many of the so-called columnists in mainstream print media are revolting pseudo-intellectual legionnaires.
I am persuaded that we are on the cliff’s edge here. We are just about to keel over. As I have said before, the Dark Age of unreason is upon us. We are about to descend into an era of a dominant national culture, which abhors rationality and scorns civility in human interaction. This inexorable decline manifests as eerie silence and or thoughtless loudness on critical issues, especially the unresolved question about who we are.
I know this is rather mean to say. For reasons economic, most academics spend precious time doing consultancy work, most of which is not deeply intellectual. Hence, there is a catastrophic dearth of public intellectual activity and academic scholarship. If there is any it is happening in infinitesimal quantities and in absolute obscurity. It’s private, rather than public. This is unnerving.
In the early 1970s through to the late 1990s, critical scholarship and public intellectual activity was nearly treasonable. The detention of scholars like Ngugi wa Thiongo, Edward Oyugi and Main wa Kinyatti come to mind. These scholars asked pertinent questions about the state of our society that made the political class uncomfortable.
Piercing public intellectual activity and critical scholarship is not alien to this land. The question is why have we stopped thinking about and debating critical, urgent issues of our time? An ominous halo of incuriosity stalks students across our university campuses.
In the lecture halls, students are inglorious clerks, taking notes dictated from the professors’ pale yellow notes of yore. For the professoriate, appearances in the lecture halls have become a chore. Is the relationship between the academics and knowledge one of unrequited love? Money is short, bills are stacked high. You got to do what you got to do.
The Bible in the book of Proverbs 24:3 is unequivocal: The building of a house is by wisdom, and by reason (understanding) it is made strong (secure). This house called the Kenyan Nation must rise on a terra firma of wisdom and each brick must be laid carefully through reasoned, critical thought.