Rebirth of humanism has often been the key to great transformational change in society, throughout history.
The great European Industrial Revolution, from about 1750, was presaged by a revolution in humanism. This was the great European Renaissance of the 14th to 17th centuries. It involved a rediscovery of ancient Greek philosophies, painting, sculpture, music and literature.
Gradually, artistic rebirth gave way to a reawakening in politics and subsequently in science and technology. Africa’s copycat experiments at technological transformation have failed to appreciate the beauty of life as the centerpiece of reform. We attempt to modernise without the active ingredient of humanism. Protagoras (490–420 BC) said, “Man is the measure of all things.” Without a revolution in higher spiritual, artistic and intellectual values, technical science will fall flat on its face.
Someone needs to tell Deputy President William Ruto these things. For the DP is in the habit of attacking liberal education and betraying appalling philistine attitudes. Tell him that the scientific revolution of Europe had a flowering of the writings of Dante and the paintings of Giotto as its seedbed. It grew on the polymaths of Leonardo Da Vinci and the inimitable Michelangelo. Those who don’t know history will place the cart before the horse, as Africa keeps doing. At its core was a gradual humanist educational reform. This is what Africa needs.
The continent must remember, at all times, that rebirth is not necessarily a physical mechanical affair. We read of a Jewish gentleman called Nicodemus, who went to see Jesus Christ one night to find out about rebirth. It is recorded in the Christian Gospel of John (3:1-21) that this Jewish intellectual wanted to understand why Christ had been talking about “being born again.”
Besides, he was eager to find out how this youthful pedestrian preacher demonstrated amazing intellectual depth and knowledge of the Jewish Law, yet he was just an ordinary shepherd.
Nicodemus was a doctor of the law and a member of the esteemed Jewish Council called the Sanhedrin. Prof Nicodemus had not seen the shepherd boy of Nazareth in the academy. And so Nicodemus concludes that the young man must be a teacher sent from God, “for nobody can do the kinds of things that you do if he is not from God.”
Then comes the big question, “You have been saying that we need to be born again. But surely, how can we be born again? Do we go back to our mothers’ wombs?”
The answer, when it comes, is a bomb. It boils down to the spirit. It is a spiritual rebirth, a regeneration of the man within. These teachers of the Jewish Law must have understood that Christ was all along only speaking figuratively? Their challenge to him can only be appreciated in its rhetorical context? It did not require an answer?
If Nicodemus thought that people should return to their mothers’ wombs to be reborn, Salman Rushdie of fallen angels fame would have them die first. For Rushdie says of his fallen angels, “To be born again, you must first die.”
If individuals can be reborn, can societies also be reborn? Can Kenya, for example, have a rebirth? The nation was born at Independence in 1963. Its birth certificate was the Constitution. Armed with this and other natal tools, she was recognised in the international arena of independent states and admitted into the United Nations family. Yet things do not seem to have worked out as had been dreamt about.
The birth certificate was also a roadmap into the future. Yet the roadmap seemed to have led in the direction of darkness and death that a colonial governor, called Patrick Renison, had predicted. The roadmap was changed many times but things only got worse. Eventually, in 2010, Kenyans were born again. They got an entirely new birth certificate. They discarded the old one.
Eight years later, they are back at it. The 2010 roadmap is still defective. If this roadmap is not serving us well, are we the proverbial poor workman who is perpetually quarrelling with his tools? Despite a new Constitution, the constitutional spirit remains very much in the old order.
The playwright Wole Soyinka has told us in the play titled The Lion and the Jewel that old wine thrives best in new wineskins. The dominant spirit under the old Constitution was the twisted vintage of greed and “hyenaism.” By and large, this vintage is in its element today.
Kenyans will have to embrace the beauty of humanism before they can advance and enjoy the benefits of science and technology. The start of our rebirth rests in the subjects called the humanities – in anthropology, music, literature, history, religion, philosophy, geography, economics, law – and only from there to science and technology. Someone, tell William Ruto. You are dead wrong, Mr DP.
-The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke