How our minds have been tenderized 100 years on

Kenyans love for meat is only muted by lack of money. The setting up of a Brazilian steak house recently was a realisation that we love being carnivorous.

Few visitors to Kenya bypass Carnivore restaurant for the same reason. From traditional to modern society, meat has been central to our lives. It is not just life-giving but central to most ceremonies. Its derivative, blood is even more popular with ceremonies, both good and evil.

Offering your visitor a mbuzi (goat) is still a sign of great honour. We even domesticated animals to make meat more available. Modernity has not subdued our appetite for meat. When beef, chicken, sheep or mutton is not available, we look for fish or even insects.

We even look down upon vegetarians, seen as poor and unsophisticated; never mind the medical consequences of too much meat and more recently the hormone-induced growth, the industrial growth of meat.

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To make hard meat easier to eat or softer, it’s tenderized. The easiest way to tenderize is to “beat it” with a mallet until it softens. Others use spices and herbs, the soft option. How meat is tenderized should worry Kenyans; hitting repeatedly till its hardness gives way.

In the last 100 years, the Kenyan mind has been tenderized. It is now softened, ready to accept ideas without questioning. Professors, lecturers, preachers, politicians and teachers can arrest this. Parenting is something else.

Easy acceptance of new ideas not all useful, without questioning is seen as a sign of advancement. From the classroom to political and religious ideas, we are now more accepting. Have you noted few Kenyans have time for consultative meetings mandated by the Constitution?

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We have no patience for reading, analysis or deep reflection on issues that affect us or the next generation. I am sure a few Kenyans will read this article long enough to see the connection between tender meat and our current social-economic circumstances. Have you read the BBI report? 2010 Constitution? The use of huge billboards and headlines is good evidence that someone must “shout” to us.

How did we get here? There has been a series of tenderizers over the last 100 years. The first was colonialism. Its shock and awe tenderized our minds with fear. Before colonialism, nature and traditions tenderized our minds. Remember taboos?

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Colonialism upset thousands of years of traditions and structure. The elders and leaders had to answer to new powers, both political and spiritual. Even today, 100 years later, the shock and awe still reverberate. Is visiting the West not everyone’s dream? Don’t we prefer western names, Ken not Kamau, Carol not Anyango? Gender and affirmative action are also possible routes to tenderized minds.

The shock and awe were accentuated by wars, from Nandi resistance to Mau Mau. They all left traumatised communities, with minds tenderized by fear. The crackdown on resistance was not just physical but also psychological; ever talked with any Mau Mau detainee?

That fear came out clearly when I recently met an old man while in the company of a 20-year old mzungu. He quickly removed the cap before greeting him!

Superior technology left our minds tenderized. Ever wondered how something like a match box shocked the indigenous people? Technology has remained a tenderizer from radio to cars to the Internet, ATM, your gas cooker, mobile phone, spectacles, and medical treatment. It is no wonder science fiction writer Arthur Clarke said that advanced science and magic are indistinguishable.

Social media is the latest tenderizer. Noted how we now stop on the streets, in supermarkets to check our phones? We no longer talk to each other in matatus or meetings. What ground breaking ideas do we stop to check or share beyond muchene?

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Religion has been the other great tenderizer. Its focus on submission to both earthly and non-earthly powers out of faith makes it so powerful. The new religions that co-existed with colonialism found an already religious society, some as monotheistic as new religions.

Today, religion has become part of our cultures. Some could argue its tendering effect is reducing as youth no longer see religion as central to their lives. It got a new competitor, materialism.

Politics has been the other tenderizer. The political leaders love tender minds, easy to control. By owning the means to communicate they can easily tenderize our minds. Who decides what is to be taught in our curriculum?

Ever wondered why governments are so central in curriculum development? Ever wondered why we have national exams? Ever wondered why examinations are still a national monopoly? Think of who licenses TV, radio stations and Internet service providers.

Through policies, laws, and regulations, you can easily tenderize a nation’s mind. Have you noted that the great political debates of the 1990s are now muted, as young Turks prolong their lives on the political stage?

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We could argue that the violence that accompanied uhuru, multipartism, the post-election in 2007/2008 and more recently terrorism have played a role in tenderizing our minds. The emotional violence has played a part, too. Have you noted how we love bringing each other down and disparaging other people’s ideas no matter how good? Our love for pessimism has no equal.

Unserious ideas

We have mentioned social media and the belief that all solutions can be found online as another route to tenderize minds. Movies and comedies do the same. We can add motivation speakers and self-help books as other tenderizers.

Some could add that parents are also new mind tenderizers. We make life as easy as possible for kids with househelps and other minders. Nowadays they even come to check on their children’s performance on campus. We try hard to make their life easy in school and at home.

100 years since Kenya became a colony, our minds are now tender and receptive to unserious ideas. Compare twa twa with the low number of patents registered in Kenya? Which one did more rounds on social media? Did you tweet the Nobel Prize winners as much as you did twa twa? We can boast of our smartphones or V8 cars but not the technology behind it. We know more singers and movie actors than we do Nobel Prize winners.

We prefer soft ideas, pseudo truths, emotional ideas to data-backed evidence and truth. Our schools still demand rigour, our homes and society want easy things. Our minds are too tender for “hard things.” If students in high school had an option of dropping maths, no one would do it.

Why else do we have 75 per cent of university students studying soft options called social sciences but better-called humanities? Do you know any family member who bought a science or maths book to read for fun after school?

Have you noted the proliferation of advisers, even for common sense things like when to marry, what gifts to give during Christmas, how to relate, how to choose your child’s name and more mundane things? One sign of a tenderized mind is aversion to common sense, analysis and decision-making.

Media and propaganda

A country with tender minds is a good market for goods and services and for political control. That is why BBI proponents will have their way and international brands will keep growing. Paradoxically, such tender minds are common in developed countries, too. The minds there have been tenderized by long history and shocks like great wars or conquest. In the last 100 years, media and propaganda have played a role too.

Tender minds, it seems, is a sign of national maturity as the country reaches its steady-state with hardened social-economic classes. If you ever lived in a developed country for a number of years, tenderization of the Kenyan mind should not surprise you. A visit to USA Deep South shows the footprints of tenderized minds through racial segregation and slavery. My concern is that the steady-state arrived prematurely in Kenya.

In the last 20 years, the country has changed faster than expected. As we enter the 2020s, expect a more quiet country, more receptive to soft ideas, more inward-looking but open to global trends.

The big question is who will control the tenderized mind, local or global forces? Politically, the new elite will emerge from post-Jubilee, post-handshake “chaos”. It will be distilled from all political parties and could surprise us by its coherence and exclusivity.

Economically, more power will shift to global players as we become a giant supermarket with East and West competing for a share of our market. Beyond the political noise, the Kenyan mind has been transformed irreversibly. The traditionalists will not hold for long.

Finally, how far you have read this article is a sign of how tenderized your mind is. Happy new year my fellow countrymen.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi.  

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